Thursday, December 11, 2014

What happens when the cops are the bad guys? You get arrested.

So, I think everyone can agree that peaceful protests are better than the rioting and looting that lead to innocent people being hurt, having their property damaged, and a loss of income.

Well, everyone that is except the government.

These days the government has two jobs, and neither of them involve serving the people or the constitution. Their first directive is to serve their corporate masters (or sponsors, if you're feeling kind). The second is to cover their asses.

So with that second point in mind, lets think about Mike Brown and Eric Garner. So those two deaths have sparked protests across the country. Civic unrest is bad for the government. It causes all sorts of problems. When people start to rise up like that they challenge the status quo. The government needs to be able to put people back in their place. They have to force the quiet. Noise has the potential to disrupt the status quo.

When people protest they risk letting other people know what's going on. When that happens it's like a snowball downhill. Getting bigger, gathering momentum, eventually becoming something that can't help but crush everything in its path.If that were to happen? The government would lose control, radical change would be forced through. That change would cause the corporate puppet masters to lose their unmitigated control of the country.

So what happens when the people start pushing at those restraints? When people start protesting? Start crying out? Start risking others finding their voices?

Over the past several weeks undercover officers in Oakland began infiltrating a group of protesters. The officers weren't part of Oakland Police Department. They were part of an outside organization that has yet to be disclosed. During a peaceful protest last night those officers attempted to incite the crowd to looting and rioting. When the cops were outed, one of them drew a gun on the crowd. There are conflicting reports. If you listen to the protesters one of the cops was assaulted after his partner drew the gun. If you listen to the cops he was assaulted before his partner drew the gun.

That's going to be the story. The story is going to be that one cop was assaulted and the other drew his weapon. Regardless of whether the gun was drawn before or after a police officer was assaulted the assault of a cop and another cop drawing his gun shouldn't be the story. The story, the real story, is two cops trying to incite looting and rioting. The reason that the assault and gun are going to be the story is because the realization that cops were trying to incite looting and rioting would have horrific consequences.

So why would the police be using undercover cops to incite looting and rioting? Simple. Discredit the protesters, shift the story away from the wrong doings of the police and make the story about violent protesters destroying private property. Turn the protesters into something that no one will listen to. Turn the protesters into the enemy. The massed voice of the people is the only thing the government has to fear. The gathering of those voices is what casting the protesters in the role of the villains is meant to prevent.

Your government is lying to you. Your government is trying to deceive you. Your media is working with them. Inform yourself. Don't believe anything they tell you. Educate yourself. Your country is falling to the sharks. It is being taken over, and taken from you. Your constitution is being destroyed and reimagined as something to oppress you. Corporations are being given more power. police are being used to turn us against one another. If nothing else that is enough reason to start distrusting everything your media tells you.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Fight For $15, #blacklivesmatter, and how they're the same protest.

The other day someone posted a picture I saw. It was a history lesson to white people on how black people learned violence from us. My first instinct was to start checking the veracity of the entire post. Fact checking is something I believe in heavily. However, after my initial reaction, before I had time to act on it, I realized I was falling prey to the same stuff everyone else has.

The thing is, it isn't a black problem. It isn't a white problem. It isn't a white versus black problem. This is a class warfare problem. Let's face it cops kill white folk too. Difference is, when it happens to a white person it gets half as much media attention because when it happens to a non-white it becomes a racism story.

Here's a sad truth about racism: It sells. You put a story in your news paper, or on your late night news that involves racism and people are gonna watch, they're gonna buy. They wanna see how it plays out. The racists want to see that those they hate got what they "deserved." Non-racists want to see justice done and equality achieved.

What they don't get into in these stories is the income level of the various victims. You see more police violence against blacks than whites because, even today, you have a larger number of African-American households living in poverty than you do white. (27.4% of African-American households, 26.6% of Hispanic households, and just 9.9% of white households).

Here's the thing... when poor people die no one cares! We've worked out a system where we don't have to provide adequate healthcare for poor people. We don't force employers to provide living wages for poor people. We give employers an incentive to cut hours for poor people (because, now, if you give them too many hours, you have to give them healthcare). We have done everything we can over the last 35 years to work towards taking more and more away from the poorest people out there. Now we've started killing them, and not punishing those people responsible. It doesn't matter if the victim is white or black, Hispanic or Asian. If you're poor, you've got a target on you, and no one is going to care.

We need, all of us, to stop making it a race issue. When we do that, and when we allow the media to dictate that we look at it in those terms, we only empower those people who would work to continue to oppress everyone in the name of larger profits. Make them pay you a living wage, and you can start to make people notice. Continue fighting for separate causes, and no one will care.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Minimum Wage, Economic Models, and Reality.

Edit: So this one should really have been an eight part series, or maybe at least four parts, but I did it as a single post. I apologize. I'm not going back and fixing it. You can feel free to read it in sections.

Minimum wage is kind of a big topic. There are a ton of variables that have to be taken into consideration when you look at changing something like the minimum wage. It's going to have a ripple effect, and if you haven't examined where those ripples go, you're bound to make things worse.

The first and easiest idea to eliminate from the playing field is that of eliminating the minimum wage entirely, and allowing a free market to set wages where they would fall naturally. Worst. Idea. Ever. Seriously, we tried that before, it was horrible. Not having a minimum wage is what led to having a minimum wage. What most people don't realize is that the abolition of slavery didn't mean you had to start paying people a minimum wage. A minimum wage wasn't established until 1938, prior to that employers paid whatever they wanted to. The wage was set by the market.

The problem is if there is a surplus of workers and a deficit of jobs, the market gets a little screwy. With so many workers and so few jobs if a potential employer offered you a wage that you didn't like, you had no negotiation leverage. They make an offer, you make a counter offer, they say thank you for your time, and they move on to someone else. Because even if the wage they're offering is really horrible, someone will take it. Why?

Well, because it's impossible to negotiate effectively when starvation, homelessness, and death are the alternatives. People need jobs. They need them for food, for shelter, for clothing. They need them to ensure they have the necessities. So when you're unemployed, and there's a surplus of workers, and the guy interviewing you offers you a ridiculously low wage, you take what you can get. Even if it isn't enough to provide for all your needs, you take it.

That was the situation in 1938, and there was no minimum wage, which meant they could offer you any stupid amount of money, and you'd take it. Some companies didn't even offer you money. After all, with no minimum wage, they didn't have to. It wasn't entirely unheard of for a company to pay you nothing more than food and shelter. Some companies would go a step further, and actually pay with food, shelter, and credits in the company store, a little shop that sold a few minor things like toiletries. Now, some companies used the credits in addition to cash pay, and some used the credits as a loan system to be paid back once you had your cash pay.

Regardless, the lack of any minimum wage forced workers into a place where they had to attempt to negotiate from a stance that left them little to no leverage, and led to the exploitation of many American workers.

So instead look at our current situation. We have a minimum wage, what would be the effects of raising or lowering the minimum wage? Since minimum wages across the country differ, lets work with a nice easy round number. Let's call the current minimum wage $10/H (which, for a lot of people would be a dream come true).

Now let us give look at a business. We'll call it Joey Burger. Joey Burger is a small business, only one little restaurant. Joey runs it with himself and one employee. Now, Joey Burger does a brisk business, but between the bills and paying his one employee $10/H and making sure he has money for himself, Joey can't hire another employee. The business is busy enough that having another employee would improve customer service, improve food quality, and possibly increase sales. Joey could go out on a limb cut some expenses at home a bit, and maybe find a way to cut expenses in the business to bring in a second employee, maybe part time, but that is a huge risk. If it doesn't lead to the increased sales, Joey's screwed himself over.

Economic Theory says this: Cut the minimum wage.
If the minimum wage were to drop to $5/H Joey would be able to easily afford a second employee. You've just reduced unemployment, and improved Joey's business, and driven up sales, and because you've got another person working and paying taxes you've boosted the economy! Look at that, we've fixed everything, that easily.

Except the world doesn't work like Economic Theory.
If the minimum wage were to drop to $5/H Joey would be able to easily afford a second employee. However, most of the time they won't bother. If one person making $10/H can do the job, and 2 people making $5/H can do the job better, the solution is simple. Pay one person $5/H to do the job, then tell him that he needs to work harder, work faster, and do better, or you'll give his job to someone who will do it better and faster for $5/H.

Greed is, for most businesses, the driving force. I mean, they're in business to make money, not to give a shit about their employees. Now, there are exceptions. There are businesses that go that extra mile to pay their employees a living wage. There are those that provide healthcare above and beyond what they have to. There are businesses that give paid vacation, paid sick leave, holiday pay, heck there are some businesses that even go so far as to close on holidays, so their employees can enjoy holidays as well.

That is not the vast majority of businesses. And I feel like I should apologize to Joey's Burgers, because while most businesses allow greed to be their driving force, you find that small businesses tend to skew the numbers a bit because small businesses who can least afford to treat their employees fairly do a better job of it than most large corporations.

There are however some major problems with rearranging the minimum wage. First off, what happens to Joey Burger? If he had one employee at $10/H and he couldn't afford a second, what makes you think his business will survive a jump to a $15/H minimum wage? What about inflation?

There are more problems than just those, but those are a good place to start. What about inflation? Well, inflation is simple. I mean, several countries have already found the solution. Tie your minimum wage directly to your cost of living. You start by bringing the wage up to something livable, after that you set it so that every time your cost of living goes up, so does your minimum wage.

Here in the U.S. some people have proposed a $15 minimum wage. So we start there. Cost of living goes up 1% over the next 6 months, minimum wage goes up $0.15. If it goes the way other countries went that'll happen several times, then balance out.

Alright, but what about people like nurses? They went to school and worked hard to get a job that, with a minimum wage of $15/H would leave them making only a little bit more than a fast food worker! On the surface that's true, but a high tide lifts all boats. Employers aren't stupid. They've managed to take advantage of the system for as long as they have because they're smart. If suddenly fast food employees are making almost as much as a nurse, or a lab tech, people are going to stop becoming nurses and lab techs, and competition for the coveted Fry Cook position is going to get intense. So hospitals are going to start offering more to their nurses, their lab techs, and everyone else who is right at the edge of minimum wage. When you've got nurses quitting their jobs to go work at a fast food joint, when employers are having to actually compete to get employees, that's when things change.

But back to the question about Joey Burger. How is Joey going to keep his doors open? Here's where it gets a little convoluted. You have to separate your employers into two categories. Those with more than 500 employees, and those with less. Those with more than 500 employees are expected to make the transition to a higher minimum wage faster than those with fewer than 500 employees.

The way it works is this. You've got Big Jim's Department Store. Maybe we should just call it JimMart. Yeah, I like JimMart better. JimMart brings in billions of dollars a year. JimMart actually makes enough money to give all of its hourly employees a 50% raise, and still be making billions a year in profits. So when the new minimum wage laws are passed, Joey Burger has some time before he has to comply with them, and between now and then JimMart's employees are making a bunch more than they have been. They don't jump straight from their current minimum wage (7.25 in a lot of states) to the new $15/H all at once. It's a stepping process which begins with a jump to $10/H. That's still a lot of money. And in the hands of 1.4million people? That's a staggering amount of money.

Here's the best part, low wage workers are known for spending their money. Suddenly infused with all this extra money, JimMart's employees are going to go out and spend it. They're going to buy new clothes (something they've been wishing they had the money to do for a while), they're going to get the latest electronics (instead of just being envious of the middle class), more of them might finally buy cars (not so great for the environment or public transportation) and they're going to eat out more. And the ones living in the same city as Joey Burger might even try going to Joey burger.

So when the time comes for Joey Burger to start paying the new minimum wage... he can. He's had increased revenues because of the increased revenue at the level of the wage workers. This is called trickle up, or fountain, economics. Trickle down and Trickle up economics are two sides of the same coin. They're both based on the idea that if you give someone money, they're going to spend that money, and that is going to create jobs. In Trickle Down economics you let the wealthy keep more of their money (through tax cuts and tax breaks) and they create jobs, and those jobs boost the economy. the problem with that is like we saw earlier with Joey Burger. He didn't hire more people, he just told his employee to work harder, and kept the money for himself. Now, eventually, with enough breaks, Joey might open a second Joey Burger, at which point he'd be forced to hire a second employee, after all his one employee can't be in two places at once. However, it'll be another minimum wage job, where that person is having to live off of government subsidies, and where everything that person pays in taxes he's getting back (because he doesn't make enough for the government to keep his money). In the end, that second job is costing people money.

Trickle up is based on something much more simple. Poor people spend their money. They spend it on necessities, they spend it on things they've wanted, they spend it frugally and frivolously. Heck, if poor people were better at saving their money they'd be rich people. In some cases they don't save their money because they don't have enough to save, but in many cases... They spend money because, well there's stuff they don't have that they want. They're going to spend it, it's going to filter into the businesses, the businesses are going to have increased revenue, and it's going to create the same cycle that trickle down would, if only the people at the top would spend money.

So this almost looks like a no brainer. The poor get more stuff, have an easier time surviving, and become less of a drain on society. Joey Burger stays open and even thrives.The middle class find themselves getting more money, and over the long term the lower and middle classes are spending enough money that even the wealthy have more. Inflation is nullified by keeping the wages indexed to the cost of living. This is a pretty good deal. There are some hitches though. The first being one that people don't immediately recognize. Franchises.

So we've had Joey Burger, and we've had JimMart. Maybe now we'll examine MickBurger. (I know, this has gotten incredibly long, but it's also an incredibly large topic). MickBurger is a national chain of fast food restaurants. Now, while there are a few corporate owned restaurants, the majority of their restaurants are actually franchisees. If you were to take all the MickBurger franchisees and count them together, they'd have well over the 500 employees needed to put them in the category of adhering to the new minimum wage laws immediately. You can't count them all together though, can you? I mean, they're all separate companies working separately whose profits are separate, right? And MickBurger corporate, they're not responsible for the pay or the income of their franchisees, right?

Weeeeeell, here's the thing. MickBurger determines the prices that they sell their franchisees supplies at. They also determine what prices their franchisees charge. They maintain control over so many things that in the end the franchisee is only an "independent operator" in name. If MickBurger were to cut how much they charge each franchisee for supplies, would MickBurger still make a profit? Definitely. Would franchisees find themselves able to afford to pay wages on a scale closer to that of JimMart? Yes. Would franchisees find themselves able to be included in the "500 employees or more" category and still compete? Yes. However, you can't simply tell MickBurger that they have to start selling their supplies at a more reasonable price. So what do you do?

You count the franchisees as part of the "500 or more" club, and here's why. When MickBurger is in danger of losing a couple of franchises they don't care. It's not going to really hurt them one way or the other. A couple makes no difference. However, start looking on the national scale, having half their franchises close their doors, and suddenly you're going to be putting a real hurt on their wallet. At that point it behooves them to analyse what they're doing with their franchises and see how they can help them keep from closing, while giving them the ability to adhere to the new wage laws. They'd become more reasonable in their policies because while being reasonable might cost them some not being reasonable will cost them all.

In the end the minimum wage is a huge topic. Even with everything I covered here, there are still tons of things to be said, to be asked, to be discussed and debated. However, there are a few simple truths.

A person who goes out and attempts to earn a living shouldn't be forced to work so many hours that his life consists of nothing but work.

A person who goes to work and earns a living should have a decent home to retire to at the end of the day.

A person who goes to work and earns a living should be able to provide food, shelter, clothing for themselves.

A person who goes to work and earns a living should have a reasonable expectation of being able to expand their creature comforts.

A person who goes to work and earns a living should not be forced to live off of government subsidies.

You should not be forced to pay for government programs to help support workers simply because their employer refuses to pay them a living wage. Your tax dollars should not be making up the difference between what people are paid, and what they need to live. Employers should be paying for their employees to live.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Healthcare, Obamacare, Single Pay, and the American Dream

You probably don't know the name Tim Alsip. Back in 2013 he did something kind of amazing, and stupid, and brilliant. The man walked into a bank, and handed the teller a note saying "This is a holdup. Give me a dollar." After the teller complied, he calmly went and sat down in the lobby and waited for the police to arrive. He went with them quietly, after all, his goal was to get arrested.

Prisoners get free health care, they get three meals a day, and they get a warm place to sleep at night. Alsip was a poor homeless man. He needed health care. He had even tried calling 911 a few times hoping to get emergency medical care that way. The thing is, emergency care, whether in the form of paramedics or going to the emergency room, only has to see to it that you're stabilized, and in no immediate danger. So if you've got a persistent problem that needs treatment, or surgery, or medication, but which is no immediate threat to your life, the emergency room doctors are going to refer you to someone who can help, and turn you out.

The sad thing is, Alsip isn't the first person to go that route. In just the few years preceding that several others had the same idea. Going to prison is the price some folks have had to pay in order to get decent medical care. Alsip was 50, and had some mental health issues. This guy James Verone in 2011 started this trend. He was 59 years old, he'd lost his job of 17 years as a delivery driver, he needed surgery on his back, he had a pain in his foot, he had some lump in his chest that needed diagnosing. He was desperate. He had nothing to lose.

What has our society come to when going to jail is an improvement for some people?

All the ails of society would make for a much larger blog entry than I think reasonable. As it is, this one, focusing on healthcare is going to be so large most people wouldn't read it. So I'll stay focused on that for the moment.

We're rated 38th by the World Health Organization in healthcare. Many Single Payer countries coming ahead of us. While we're 38th in healthcare, we're #1 in spending per capita. So per person we spend more than countries with Universal Health Care, still end up falling behind the pack. We're 34th in life expectancy. Why is that? We're a rich country, we've got medical technological marvels, we've got amazing doctors, we spend more than anyone else on health care. Why don't we have a better life expectancy? Is it because we're fat?

Okay, obesity is a problem, but did you know however that we smoke less and drink less than our contemporaries? Maybe that balances, maybe it doesn't. However, just like you can't simply say that smoking less and drinking less doesn't necessarily balance the obesity you also can't simply blame the entire healthcare problem in America on obesity.

So where does it start? I'll be honest. I'm in favor of a Single Payer system. I'm going to give you two reasons. One reason is economic, the other is humanitarian.

Everyone understands negotiating leverage and buying power. Under the current system, a hospital, or network of hospitals is negotiating using the buying power of that single system of hospitals. Those hospitals with their patients. Single Pay increases your buying power by an order of magnitude. You're running your dinky little hospital with your million or so patient visits each year. When you negotiate you're negotiating with your million or so patient visits each year. A Single Payer system would mean that you're negotiating for 1.2 billion hospital visits each year.

So you've got artificial knees, and you've got your million patients a year, you're gonna get a price, but it's not gonna be the same price as when you can say you've got more than a billion patients a year. At a billion patient visits a year you go to all the companies that make artificial knees and tell them that every fucking knee replacement in the country is going to go to the company that provides the best knee at the best price. You want an economic reason to go single pay? Right now we pay more for everything because we don't have any negotiating leverage.

So how about a humanitarian reason? Well, you've got Tim Alsip and James Verone, but lets say that's not enough. People talk about the long wait times for procedures in Single Pay countries. The first thing to do is dispel that long wait time myth. Some single payer countries have long wait times, some others don't. Here in the U.S. we have relatively short wait times for medical procedures. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the most obvious is that Americans don't go to the hospital. Here in the United States we have so many people who lack health care coverage, who who have health care coverage that is inadequate that going to the hospital is a last resort for many.

So you've got this guy, and he's got a scratchy little cough in the back of his throat. It could be nothing, it's probably nothing, or maybe it's allergies. So a week goes by, maybe a couple weeks, the scratchy cough is there. guy goes out, he buys some allergy tablets, and hey, that cough still doesn't go away. It gets worse. We don't go to the hospital. We don't go because we can't afford it. We don't go because we can't miss the time from work. We don't go because if we do we'll be paying it off for the rest of our lives, because we don't have health insurance, or the health insurance we have is inadequate. So after six months this guy is coughing so often and so violently that something in the back of his throat rips. Now he's coughing blood. Now he goes to the hospital.

That's when he finds out he has cancer. if he had gone in five months ago they could have simply cut out a little tumor growing along the esophagus. Chances of survival would have been pretty high. If he had come in three months ago it would have been slightly riskier as the tumor would be larger, but chances of survival would still have been pretty high. At this point however the cancer has spread. There is no surgery. There's drugs and chemo, radiation and prayers. The doctors give him a year, eighteen months at the most.

We don't have a shorter line for medical care, here in the United States, we just step over a bunch of dead bodies to get to the front of the line.

Obamacare wasn't the answer, it was a huge mistake. Tying employment and healthcare together has done nothing but push employers into the idea of having no full time employees, and instead having nothing but people working under 30 hours in order to avoid having to provide them with healthcare. The only good thing about Obamacare was this: Someone tried to do something. That's a change, and it's a good change. Someone pretended to give half a shit for five minutes. Sure, the way they tried to carry out that attempt to make things better was all sorts of wrong, but someone finally did something in an attempt to have a positive impact on the American Healthcare system. That has to count for something.

In the end, maybe the two reasons I give aren't enough to make you think that a single payer system is worthwhile, maybe you need more reasons, and there are plenty of other reasons out there. For me though the amount of money that American's could save on health care, and the number of lives that could be saved, for me that's enough reason. I don't mind standing behind someone in line for healthcare, if it means I'm not stepping over all those corpses anymore.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Big Clout, Big Media, Mike Brown, Eric Garner

You know, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to start this. I keep thinking of just listing a bunch of stuff that has happened recently that is bad, or symptomatic of the larger problem. The problem there is what actually heads the list? What actually makes the list? What makes the cut? Does Mike Brown make the cut? I’m not sure, I've looked at a lot of the stuff available, and I don’t think he’d make the cut. On the other hand, the press coverage of that would probably make the cut, so in its own way his story would make the cut. Did you know that Eric Garner was a black man who was killed in Staten Island? The M.E. declared the death a homicide.

Here’s the story. He and some others were standing out on a sidewalk. The cops approached him. He’d helped to break up a fight, and that was the reason the police were there in the first place. He had previously been arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes. There’s a bunch of video of it. Supposedly he was once again selling untaxed cigarettes. Did he resist arrest? He pulled his arm away from the officer and told him not to touch him. That qualifies. Did he VIOLENTLY resist arrest? No. However, one of the cops decided to jump on his back and put him in a choke hold. Back in 1993 the state of New York banned the use of choke holds when attempting to detain a suspect. Mostly because there was too much chance of accidental death.

In the case of Eric Garner, that’s exactly what happened. There were other contributing factors, Garner was overweight, had heart problems (from his obesity), and asthma. Here’s the thing, Eric Garner got ten out of his fifteen minutes of fame, because right on the heels of that (less than a month later) Mike Brown happened. Here’s where just one symptom of a much bigger problem comes in. Big Media. Big Media is part of Big Clout. Big Clout… well you've got Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma… They’re all part of this vast machine that works against everyone who isn't them, or anything that might have a negative impact on their profits.

So you’ve got Garner, he’s no angel, but if you watch the videos taken while he was being killed, you can’t help but say, “That shit is just wrong.” Here’s a fact for you, people realizing that they’re part of a society that is helping to oppress them is bad for profits, and seeing Garner’s video could do nothing but remind people that they don’t even rate as high as a cog in the machine. So Mike Brown goes out and gets himself shot, and that’s good for Big Clout. Suddenly the focus is shifted. We’re not talking about Garner anymore. We’re talking about a thug who robbed a convenience store, assaulted a cop, and got himself shot.

You wanna know why poor white trash getting shot doesn't make the news? Because as long as Big Clout can make it a Black problem, we’re divided. If we can make the Black problem about a black guy who may have just partaken in criminal activity and maybe even did something to bring that on himself instead of the black guy standing on the sidewalk peacefully, it’s a Thug problem. If we can use that thug to distract people from all the other examples, well, it’s not my problem.

People don’t understand. Big Clout has used Big Media to turn us against each other. This isn't a white versus black issue. There is an us and a them. If you’re living in the shrinking middle class, or even the upper middle class, if you’re living in poverty, or on the edge of poverty, or if you’re having to work two jobs or more just to get by, or if you’re living in a household where more than 60 hours of work each week is the norm, you’re us. The part that hurts the most is that the media has worked so hard to brainwash people for the last thirty years that most of us hate us and disagree with us and work against their own self interests.

Whether you agree with anything I said about Brown or Garner, the fact is that Media and Big Clout have worked against the people.