by Ed Raymond
17 June 2021
Why Cooks Are Yelling “Flip Your Own Damn Burgers!”
A June 3 headline in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye because it raved: “U.S. Economy’s Rebound is Without Historical Parallel.” I was shocked because I remembered a news story in The Guardian a few months ago that stated one in four Americans, or a quarter of the entire population, did not have enough money to have access to “nutritious food needed for a healthy life.” It’s ironic that The Guardian, based in London, teamed up with the Institute of Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University to investigate food poverty in the United States.
Why didn’t the New York Times or the Washington Post do the research? Could it be because of corporate ownership?
The major findings emphasized that “failing to have access to adequate nutrition threatens the long-term prospects of a generation of black and brown children.” We also have to realize that the WSJ backs the Wall Street bull and the shit around him, investment banks, and the 10% of the population who presently own almost 90% of the stocks on the Dow-Jones -- which has gone up 18% since the start of COVID-19.
The WSJ never mentions Main Street because that’s where 40% of American households that can’t come up with 400 bucks to cover a sudden emergency live across the tracks.
The phrases in the first couple of paragraphs of the story are ecstatic:””unlike any in history…powered by consumers with trillions in extra savings…businesses eager to hire…new businesses popping up at record paces…home prices up 14%...we’ve never had anything like it…a boom-like pickup…labor market increasingly tight…Americans saved at an annual rate of $2.8 trillion just in April of 2021.”
Sounds like a terrific economy, right? Well, it is, for the very rich.
How can you rave about an economy that is only for the rich? Isn’t a country’s economy for everybody? We presently have 15 million workers drawing unemployment, another 10 to 12 million unemployed, and another five million who have given up looking for work. We have 12 million renters owing thousands in back rent. No one seems to know how many homeowners will be foreclosed on because of the pandemic.
When the eviction notices go out, Los Angeles may increase its homeless from 5,000 on Skid Row, from 60,000 downtown, to a total of 500,000 for the metro area!
Can’t the rich see anything from the sky? When millionaire Manhattanites from their multi-million dollar apartments fly to the Hamptons to their multi-million dollar beach houses for the weekend, don’t they ever look down at the ghettos of the city? They pay $795 for a helicopter seat, the same for their nanny for the kids, and $95 for the purebred poodle. They often have to wait to land because the airport is so crowded with helicopters. All while one in four American children live in poverty.
The Virus Has Been Great for the World’s Billionaires
Forbes magazine prepares a list each year of the world’s billionaires, because of course, it’s owned by a billionaire. Like the WSJ, it raves about the 2,755 billionaires in 2021, which is nearly a third higher than the 2,095 in 2020. All created during the worst pandemic in over a 100 years! Three cheers for such good news!!! The Divided States gained 109 billionaires from 2020 to a total of 724.
The fortunes of the 724 grew by $1.5 trillion last year to a total of $4.4 trillion, which means their wealth is more than double that of the bottom 50% of Americans—165 million people. They made this stupendous total while 22 million workers lost their jobs and 400,000 small businesses closed down forever. Yes, it was a remarkable economy, with the poor getting poorer, the middle class almost disappearing, and the rich getting richer. One economist put it this way: “(the pandemic) is an extinction-level event for small business.” No matter, the WSJ is still raving about it.
Who actually earned that $1.5 trillion for the billionaires who pay Congress very well for their tax cuts, loopholes, and tax havens? As the rich escape the virus in the Hamptons, Bahamas, Florida gated villages, and “panic” estates, it’s the cooks, clerks, servers, cashiers, maids, bartenders, janitors, dishwashers, gardeners, police, fire, teachers, drivers, flight attendants, home health aides, nurses, and other essential workers who risked their lives every day to survive a cataclysm and attempt to make a living.
In the book Mom Genes, Abigail Tucker has facts about being a mother in the richest country in the world: “American babies were found to be more frustrated, sad, and afraid than babies in other rich countries. The problem, according to researchers, was that their mothers felt unsupported at work (where time off after childbirth tends to be unpaid, if it exists at all) and medically adrift.”
The Richest Man in the World Has a Pregnant Superyacht
Maybe the economy is sensational. Patriotic Millionaires are protesting at the homes of Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world at this point. They are marching in front of his homes in New York and his double-mansion 27-bathroom residence in Washington. D.C.--where he owns the Washington Post. They feel he -- and they -- should pay more taxes.
Amazon only paid only a 9.4% rate in 2020, way less than the 21% corporate tax rate. Police and fire personnel pay a higher rate. During the pandemic only, Bezos personally made $100,000 per employee. Amazon has 1.3 million employees. Do the math. Heck, some years Amazon paid no federal taxes at all. Bezos just bought MGM’s old movies and “intellectual material” for $8.7 billion. He currently holds the world record of making $13 billion in one day of business. He is now personally worth more than each of these corporations: McDonald’s, Nike, and Costco.
Bezos has a $200 billion fortune so he is now buying a three-mast superyacht 417 ft. long which costs over $500 million. He recently dumped his wife of 25 years and settled the divorce for only $38 billion, making his ex the fourth richest woman in the world at $60 billion. But his new wife likes to fly helicopters, and because of the three huge steel masts, she cannot land on his new superyacht. Solution? Build another yacht with a helicopter landing pad for about a hundred million. Nothing like Mom and Pop yachts. The annual maintenance costs for the superyacht alone is $60 million.
Meanwhile, back where all that money is really made, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reported that Amazon’s 638 warehouses lead the 5,411 facilities in the Divided States in work-related injuries at a rate double any other business. Amazon has 5.9 serious accidents per 100 workers per year. Walmart warehouse workers suffer only 2.5.
Bezos spends billions keeping his facilities from being unionized. A recent attempt to unionize one Alabama “distribution center” was defeated by a vote of the workers. The vote is being challenged by the union, saying Amazon violated Labor Department laws to challenge the vote. Bezos brags about paying living wages, but up to a third of his workers are on food stamps.
Amazon workers charge they are treated like robots and are under electronic supervision at all times. Cameras are everywhere. Workers claim they are forced to pee in bottles and defecate in plastic bags in attempts to keep up with employment quotas. The book Fulfillment: Winning and Losing In One-Click America describes how Amazon leaves social wreckage in its wake, injures its workers at a record pace, and leaves local officials who signed off on sweetheart tax deals with little revenue.
College Students Owe $39,351 Each
More than 43 million Americans from 17 to well over 71 owe a total of $1.73 trillion in “student” loans. Some parents who co-signed loans and some elderly who still owe on their own student loans are having Social Security checks “shaved” and tax refunds deducted to pay off loans.
“The pandemic is the nail in the coffin,” states one borrower. The loans have continued to increase while many borrowers have lost their jobs. One former student faces this nightmare. Originally borrowing $12,000 a decade ago, she defaulted when she couldn’t make payments. (Bankruptcy is not an option on student loans.) She has since had over $50,000 claimed from her tax refunds and still owes more than $12,000 because of fees and interest!
A Portland, Oregon lawyer and his school teacher wife still owe $150,000 on student loans taken out between 1995 and 2003 when they were both getting degrees. They are now worrying how to put their two children through college—and whether they will ever be able to retire. Combined debt made them unable to get a mortgage so they had to rely on parents for assistance. Unexpected medical bills destroyed their credit rating and affected monthly student loan payments.
The organization Student Loan Justice has called for cancellation of student debt because “It is a catastrophically failed lending system by any rational metric.” We could almost cover the student debt in just one year if the IRS collected the taxes they failed to collect from the rich last year.
Meanwhile, these countries, among many, have free college and universal health care which eliminates two major financial problems for most college students: Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Greece, and France. These countries are always selected at the top of the most livable countries.
Why the Divided States Has the Worst Income Inequality in the World
Thepandemic revealed very quickly that we lack the social safety net all other industrialized countries have for their citizens. We have no parental leave, no maternity leave, no subsidized child care, no universal health care, totally inadequate welfare for the disabled, and hundreds of tent cities for workers on minimum wage, the mentally ill, and the physically disabled.
Taxes for the common good are an important sign of a livable country. Among the 37 countries in the OCED, the Divided States of America ranks 32nd in the rate of taxes related to the Gross National Product of the country. The ten top livable countries all have rates at 40% or above while our tax rate is at 24% -- and all of those countries have universal health care and totally support a good safety net. They will recover from the pandemic quickly. It will take us years, even with the WSJ’s description of “a historical economy without parallel.” We have income inequality without parallel in the world.
And we are a mess politically. Staying home during the pandemic was the best answer to a spreading virus. Wearing masks was another. Many refused to wear masks and ridiculed and harassed those who did, sometimes ending in murder. Now we have the anti-vaxxers who are alive because of vaccines developed to cope with other viruses and diseases.
Plenty of “essential” Americans lost their lives protecting the rest of us. They were the workers -- first responders, hospital staff, teachers -- and those who earned the rich billions by driving trucks and buses, cleaning and maintaining hotels and motels, manning nursing homes, and “flipping their damn burgers.” We owe them a living wage and a solid safety net.
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