Tag Archives: Occupy Your Mind

Why Trickle-Down Economics Doesn’t Work: The Rich Don’t Share–It Makes Them Feel Poor!

We, as a country, are in collective denial. As Phil Alston states so well in a recent interview with Amy Goodman, we have the money to end poverty, but we simply choose not to, donating money to the rich instead (via tax breaks, tax refunds, and other forms of government assistance.)

Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Uh no. It actually makes no logical sense at all.

But I would take Alston’s point even further to say this: we’re not only refusing to help the poor but we’re also choosing to persecute the poor as well.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a war on the poor.

A war on the poor! The United States is always at war with something, and it’s usually something defenseless, something or someone we can easily defeat because of their lesser resources.

Here in the USA, we don’t know ourselves. That’s a part of our denial: 36th in water quality in the world, a high infant mortality rate, shorter lifespans than in many other countries, etc…

Yet the brainwashing continues. Schools continue to teach children that they’re lucky to live in the USA, the land of opportunity with freedom of speech, freedom to be yourself, unless, of course, you say something that someone with a lot more money and power than you doesn’t like…

That was true in Hitler’s day, and it is still true today. We’re all free, theoretically. People everywhere in the world are free to say whatever they want (as long as they are physically able to speak.) Problem is, some other people also have the freedom to lock you up in prison for speaking. Yes, you have the right to speak, but if someone else has the right to lock you up in jail for the rest of your life for speaking, you probably don’t feel free to speak, even though, technically, you are.

You see, we all can speak out against social injustice, but some of us worry about losing our jobs, about alienating people who have power over us, or worse, about being imprisoned. So we remain silent.

Here’s my speech:

There’s a type of prison that is rarely discussed in the US these days because the PTB (powers that be) would rather we not notice them. I’m speaking, of course, of the prison of poverty. You may not be in what we commonly refer to as a jail, but not having the freedom to do the things you love and live the life you choose because you don’t have the money to do so, is a lot like being imprisoned. Working at a demoralizing job in an environment that attacks your self esteem and that doesn’t pay a decent living wage, you can become so consumed with stress, always trying to keep up with the cost of living–paying bills late, paying fees charged on top of those bills because you paid late, paying the rent, the utilities, the high cost of healthy food, insurance costs, transportation costs, health care costs, etc. It all adds up for those of us who struggle to make ends meet.

Eventually, many of us just give up and accept that our lives will always be miserable no matter what we try to do to change them. That is the moment when some people succumb to addictions or abusive behavior toward themselves or their families. Some people have just given up on themselves and on the human race in general. ‘What’s the point?’ they ask.

If your voice isn’t listened to, then why speak out?

If hard work doesn’t pay off, then why work hard?

If you’re good at what you do and no one cares, then why be good at what you do?

If you’re a nice person but keep struggling while watching the selfish and the cruel succeed, then why be a nice person? Maybe greed really is good?

Do you see my point?

The worry and fear that goes along with financial struggles limits us, prevents us from fully developing as human beings. When we’re struggling so much that there’s no time to think, it’s easy to become self-centered. We become accustomed to worrying about how to pay for things.

Sometimes we forget about those measley hopes and dreams. We forget how to live life, how to find joy, how to relax and listen for our favorite song or wait for a film we want to see to be released. We forget these little luxuries because we just don’t have the money to pay for them and probably never will again. Sometimes we just have to let these things go and… just… survive. Let go of all that makes you human and just learn to survive, like a stray cat howling in the alley.

Survival. Not much of a life, is it?

Yet human suffering caused by poverty could end in an instant here in the United States where there is plenty of exorbitant wealth that could easily be spread around.

What are you saying? Are you a communist? Look, we already talked about that in my previous blog, didn’t we?

Here’s an excerpt of what Phil Alston had to say about poverty in the US:

“Well, the United States is, of course, one of the richest countries in the world. But all of the statistics put it almost at the bottom. Doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s child mortality rates, whether it’s the longevity of adults [that’s how long we’re expected to live, in case you don’t know,] whether it’s the degree of adequacy of health care, the United States is very close to the bottom on all of these.

What’s really surprising is that when I go to other countries, the big debate is that ‘We don’t have the money. We can’t afford to provide basic services to these people.’

And yet in the United States, they’ve got a trillion or a trillion and a half to give to the very rich, but they also don’t have any of the money to provide a basic lifestyle that is humane for 40 million Americans…

…What’s shocking is that in a country like India today there’s a huge government campaign to try to get sewerage to all people, make it available. In Alabama and West Virginia where I went, I asked state officials, ‘So what’s the coverage of the official sewerage system?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Really. So what plans do you have then for extending the coverage, albeit slowly?’ ‘Uh… None.’ So do you think people can live a decent life if they don’t have access to sewerage? If the sewage is pouring out into the front garden, which is what I saw in a lot of these places?’

‘That’s their problem. If they need it, they can buy it for themselves.

In Alabama where the soil is very tough, it can cost up to $30,000 to put in your own septic system.”

Your thoughts on the United States after this two weeks [of traveling through impoverished areas in the US]?

“Well, the United States is unique. First of all, it doesn’t recognize what we call as social rights on the international level—the right to health care, the right to housing, the right to food. The United States is unique in that, saying, ‘These are not rights.’ Second, the issue with the elimination of poverty always is around resources. We don’t have the money. The United States, again, uniquely has the money. It could eliminate poverty over night, if it wanted to. What we’re seeing now is the classic, it’s a political choice. Where do you want to put your money? Into the very rich or into creating a decent society which will actually be economically more productive than just giving the money to those who already have a lot…”

__Philip Alston, NYU Law Professor, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, from an interview with Amy Goodman on ‘Democracy Now’ 12/19/2017

Related links:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201603/beware-americas-shocking-loss-empathy

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/

 

 

 

 

 

Draconian Measures Used to Penalize Student Loan Debtors

Draconian Measures Used to Penalize Student Loan Debtors

People, student loan debtors are being treated differently from other debtors. Is this fair? Why the emphasis on penalizing people for going to college? Is this an effort to prevent poor and middle class people from getting an education?

Read on…

Do you think it is okay for the government to use draconian, i.e., cruel and life-destroying, soul-defeating methods to punish student loan debtors for not being able to pay off their loans?

Aw… am I using hyperbole here?

Nope. (But gotta love that word “hyperbole.” Makes me feel so special whenever I use it…)

In 21 US states, your driver’s license can be taken away from you if your student loans have gone into default. That’s nearly half the country. And this includes states such as California (once a “liberal” state) where a car is practically a necessity for getting around and for getting a job. In fact, some employers require a driver’s license and proof of auto insurance as a prerequisite for certain jobs.

In some states, your professional license can be taken away. So… if you have a license to practice law, medicine, to cut hair, to teach, to fix the plumbing, etc., you can lose your license to work!

Does this make sense? How would debtors pay off their debts if they’ve lost their licenses to work and to drive?

If someone is having trouble paying their bills, and our primary concern was to try to get them to pay those bills (not to destroy that person’s life,) wouldn’t it make more sense to assist them with finding a better-paying job so that they’d be in a better position to pay off their debts? How does it benefit our society to ruin the lives of college graduates by penalizing them for life for simply not having the money to pay off their debt? Immigrants who come to the US usually receive assistance in finding work and housing. Why not provide that same assistance to our very own, fellow US citizens?

Why do we emphasize punishing the poor people who can’t afford to pay their debts? Why aren’t we punishing the employers who refuse to pay their employees a decent, living wage? Or the landlords who charge unreasonably high rents, thus preventing their tenants from paying their other bills on time?

Student loan debt is the ONLY debt that cannot be written off in bankruptcy. Is this fair? Why are billionaires, such as Donald Trump, allowed to declare bankruptcy for debts accrued due to foolhardy and reckless decisions while student loan debtors–who come from poor or middle class families–are not? In fact, gamblers can write off their debts via bankruptcy. Does this make sense? Do we want to reward people for being irresponsible with their money but punish people for trying to make their lives better by obtaining an education?

Student loans are a form of financial assistance. Wealthy students don’t need them because their families can afford to pay their college tuition. It’s those of us who come from poor or middle class families who apply for financial assistance to attend college and are offered student loans.

Scholarships and grants that cover the entire cost of tuition are rare these days. Most students will not be able to obtain scholarships or grants that cover all of their tuition costs and are forced to take out loans in order to go to college.

Increasingly, many jobs require a license or certificate, if not a degree. Either way, that means, going to school and taking some classes. Does it make sense to penalize people who have financial  need (otherwise they wouldn’t be applying for financial aid) by taking away their bankruptcy protections, driver’s and professional licenses, etc.? Do we really want to discourage poor people from going to college and trying to pull themselves out of poverty? Again, while at the same time, we’re encouraging gambling and financial irresponsibility by offering bankruptcy protections for gamblers, millionaires and billionaires?!

Is that really what we want to do as a society?

Seriously?

Being a college student is hard work. It requires countless hours of studying, researching, writing papers, taking exams, and having one’s work  scrutinized and graded. It can be a stressful time for students who take their studies seriously. Why is this hard work not respected? Do we want to send the message to students that their hard work will not be rewarded?  Have we become such an idiocracy that we want to discourage people from not only thinking and learning but for trying to make their selves and their lives better by working hard to achieve a dream?

Student loan debtors can have their wages garnished, their tax refunds confiscated and–get this–their social security benefits taken from them. Is this fair? Does it even make sense from a practical standpoint? Does the punishment fit the “crime?” What is the crime exactly? Trying to obtain an education?

In a few years, we will have a huge population of elderly people who will no longer be able to work yet won’t be obtaining social security benefits in their retirement, won’t have money saved in the bank, won’t have children to help them–because they never started a family due to this oppressive debt–won’t have a home to live in, because they postponed buying a home and starting a family due to this debt, and our society will have a massive crisis on its hands.

What will we do with all these disenfranchised student loan debtors whose entire lives were spent dealing with an impossible to pay off debt so that they never accrued any nest egg, savings or family unit of their own? These will be broken, damaged people who wanted to contribute but were not allowed to fully contribute to society and not allowed to achieve their dreams. People who never really lived but spent their lives struggling financially. Are we going to just kill them off like the Nazis got rid of its “undesirables”? Or are we going to attempt to pay for their health care and basic living needs (while we continue to fund war and the surveillance state?)

Whether we decide to suddenly become a compassionate nation that takes care of its elderly or we continue to be a cruel, heartless, sociopathic nation that that rewards selfishness and greed, we’re going to have a crisis once a critical mass of people grows old with this massive debt. Why are we creating this crisis right now?

Even from a practical standpoint, does it make sense to create a huge population of disenfranchised, broken, defeated people who wanted to contribute but instead will be disabled and damaged from years of impoverishment? These are people we’ll need to take care of eventually. These are people who were our best and brightest who we chose to crush with massive debt and draconian punishment of it. We can, in fact, head back in time. We can go back to the days when poor people had no chance of ever bettering themselves, when only the rich had access to decent health care and education, when cruel and unusual punishments or torture were implemented by the wealthy and privileged against the disadvantaged whenever they dared defy the social order or status quo. Wait a minute, would that involve going back in time? Or are we there right now?

What’s truly heartbreaking is that this country could change over night. In fact, instantly, we could truly be a great America again. It doesn’t matter who’s president, really. What matters is us, we the people, and what we want. As long as we stick together and stand by each other, we can make our politicians bend to our will. (Problem is, we are not sticking together. We are out to get each other–dog-eat-dog!)

But like all of our nation’s problems, the student loan debt issue is a solvable problem. In a heartbeat, we can solve this problem. We can restore bankruptcy protections for student loan debt starting NOW. Then we can start working on other solutions, such as, restoring scholarships and grants that cover tuition costs, eliminating the student loan program altogether (because poor people can’t ever guarantee they will be able to pay off debts–they’re poor dammit!,) lowering or even eliminating the cost of college tuition. Offering free educational programs, especially job-training programs, so that people really will have opportunities to learn and grow and potentially increase their income potential.

This blog first appeared on Disqus:  Click HERE to read

 

 

Occupy Your Mind! American Apathy

If you’re well-informed on American politics, then you’re one of the few. Most Americans appear to be apathetic, at best–cold and callous at their worst.

Why is this? A new political podcast called “Occupy Your Mind” attempts to answer that very question.

So far, we’ve narrowed our reasons down to the following:

–Exhaustion: In other words, Americans are tired of hearing about the problems. Make them go away, already! It’s just too depressing. Besides, many people are working at two or more jobs just to make ends meet. They simply don’t have the time or the mental energy to care about the state of the world while they’re struggling just to survive, which brings me to the next reason.

–Overwork and Financial Struggle: Struggle brings out the worst in people. People tend to get selfish when their basic needs are not being met.

–Fear: What happens to political activists? Ultimately, most of them do not live long (Noam Chomsky not withstanding.) But those of us familiar with the red squads, CointelPro and the McCarthy era may have had encounters of our own with the establishment that is very much afraid of we the people. (Is surveillance in place to keep “us” safe or to keep them–the government and big business–safe from our potential revolt?

–Ignorance: Quite simply many Americans just don’t know about current events, history and their contemporary society. The notion of “rugged individualism” has convinced many that the past and present and our environment don’t matter, that all that matters is what is happening inside us as individuals. It’s a motivational idea for some but for many people it’s self-destructive. No one is an island. We all share the planet and can’t avoid being influenced by our surrounding community.

–Disconnection: There’s probably a better term for this. Chris Hedges refers to atomized Americans. We’re a fragmented society, filled with millions of people who are afraid to talk with each other, who can’t get intimate, can’t connect, work, play or cooperate effectively with each other. Those in power are working hard to drive us further apart, using fear and limiting our ability to interact publicly.

–Media Addiction: How do years of watching television affect our thinking? Have we lost our ability to interact with each other directly? How often do people talk with each other without distractions or interruptions coming from cell phones or blaring TV sets in the background? How can people communicate with each other and learn to resolve conflicts when we rarely talk with each other anymore?

 

Perhaps we’ll come up with more reasons for American apathy in future v-casts.

Until then, it’s time to say toodles, peeps!