In Support of the Living Wage…

You know those ads in which the very serious voice-over claims to have information “the credit card companies don’t want you to know about”?  Turns out, the advertisement is for one of those credit management companies the credit card companies very much want you to know about.  If you, the consumer, have decided to pursue bankruptcy – you know, as a business strategy in an effort to reposition yourself for improved operations going forward (just like big business does when jettisoning pension obligations) – the credit card companies would first like to take a look at your finances…a very close look.

To that end, they’ve developed a detailed budget format.  I’ve had occasion to see one of these forms and I can assure you, it covers EVERYTHING.  They’ve thought of things you haven’t.  When setting up a personal budget, most people tend to think big; house payment, car payment, electricity, water.  But there’s also what’s known as “the Latte Factor”.  The idea is, if you stop by some local coffee stop every day and buy a four dollar latte, why, you’ve spent $120.00 month – $1,440 dollars a year you COULD have been giving to the credit card companies!  (For the record, I don’t really mean to denigrate the idea.  I support the notion of paying one’s bills…)

They’re looking for that.  It’s the form equivalent of turning you upside down and shaking to make sure your last shiny penny isn’t hidden at the bottom of a pocket.  They want to know, on average, how much you spend on birthday presents each month.  I mean, it’s VERY detailed.  The first time I saw one of these forms I was simultaneously impressed/sickened by the comprehensive nature of the personal invasion associated with credit card companies ensuring you’re not spending their money foolishly.  (I note there was no space on the form to explain that the good job you once had that allowed you to manage your debts is now done in China and all you’ve been able to find to replace it is a job – or two – in the “service industry”…)

This, of course, brings me toward my point.  (Just remember the form bit for a minute.  We’ll get back to it.)  Recently, I’ve been seeing “news” stories about fast-“food” workers staging one-day walkouts, agitating for higher pay.  By now, we’re all familiar with the stories of Wal-Mart paying its workers so poorly they’re forced to turn to state assistance even though they’re willing to work.  The other day, I heard there’s a group out there trying to get public corporations to list CEO pay as a ratio against the pay of the rank and file workers of their companies.  The idea is to “shame” CEO’s into paying better wages…as though CEO’s understand the concept of “shame”…

I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s but a quick Google search shows that McDonald’s profits for 2012 came in at $5.5 billion dollars – that’s “billion”, with a ‘B’.  Wal-mart’s profits, sadly, were down a bit.  They had to settle for only $15.7 billion in profits in 2012.  Now remember, these are profits – the amount of money left over after all expenses (including wages) have been paid.  These days, a CEO makes roughly 204 times that of their average worker’s pay.

Sorry about the numbers.  I know they’re boring.  But the two preceding paragraphs are a kind of compare and contrast; what’s the situation for the workers as compared to the situation for the companies?  In the face of all of this, California is considering raising the state’s minimum wage from the current $8.00/hr to the incredible $10.00/hr by 2016.  Woo-hoo!  That means a person working full time for minimum wage in California will only fall $980 below the poverty line in three years instead of the $5,140 they fall behind now.  Assuming, of course, the poverty line doesn’t change between 2013 and 2016.*

More numbers, I know.  The worst part is that all of that is based against a “poverty line” that is, if I may say, ridiculous at best.  For a person to try to get by in most places in California on $22k per year is…difficult, at best.  You want to set a realistic “poverty” line?  Use that form I mentioned at the beginning – the one where the credit card companies want a realistic look at your spending habits.  Fill in real numbers.  Don’t try to tell me how little I need if I just forego heat or indulge in food only every other day.  (For my part, I won’t try to pretend everyone needs the newest iWhatever every time they come out with a new color…)  Do it on a county by county basis – because the cost of living really is different around the state.  Annualize it.

Once you’ve done that divide by 2,080.  (That’s the number of hours a full time employee works each year.  Did you know that?)  You know what you’ll have?  You’ll have a legitimate living wage.  And THAT’S my actual point.  It’s time to stop all the window dressing and symptom-treating and pay workers enough to live on.  Let’s pass THAT law.  (Yes, I know it would hurt small, mom-and-pop business so we’ll start with businesses that employ 20 or more people without any bunk regarding full or part time.)

Yes, I know all about the horrified, hand-wringing and dire, sky-is-falling predicted consequences from businesses that might have to find a way to squeeze by on profits of only $14.7 billion dollars a year.  (Oh, the huMANity…)  But I’ve taken enough of your time, for now, so suffice to say, for now, those calamitous predictions are wrong – just like every other worker reform that has occurred in the face of predicted destruction.  But I’ll come back to it.  There’s a lot that goes into this.  It’s better if we take it in bite-sized pieces…


 *  These are my back-of-the-napkin calculations so you can see (and I can remember) how I arrived at the numbers:

 Poverty line in California for one person, 2012: $21,780

Full time, 8/hr: $16,640/yr    $5,140 below 2012 poverty line

Full time, 10/hr: $20,800    $980 below 2012 poverty line

 Source: quick Google search, answered by  There are no numbers provided for one person but there’s a regular increase per individual of $7,640, which I subtracted from the listed 2 person poverty line of $29,420…

Hillary the Inevitable…

I’d like to say a few words about the inevitability of Hillary.  Before I do it’s important to clarify that I’m a liberal.  I’m not a Democrat but as of late, I DO play one in the voting booth.  In the last five elections, I voted for Clinton (Bill), Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Obama.  Four out of five wins.  (Yeah, I know…)

 One can’t talk about the Hillary Presidency without talking about the Bill Presidency.  That’s fair, right?  After all, one of Hillary’s selling points is that she’s a “two-fer”.  If you take Hillary, you get Bill, too!  I was a big fan of William Jefferson Clinton III.  I very much enjoyed the prosperity the country experienced while he was President and the entire time he was running the show I felt a general feeling of optimism about the direction the country was heading.  But, as it turns out, there were a couple of things.  (No, not Monica.  That was never any of my business…)

 It seems a fine point but I distinguish between legislation a President signs and legislation passed by over-riding a Presidential veto.  If he signs it, he supports it, even if his support is the result of a compromise.  There are three that particularly bother me and they are these: he signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which put the final nail in the coffin of American journalism, he signed NAFTA, which put in place the mechanism that prompted the exodus of American industry overseas, and he signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall which allowed the banksters to run rampant over the American – and world – economy.

 Now, I say again, I like Bill Clinton…so, I randomly decided he signed these destructive bills by way of compromise.  This was, I decided, the “give” so he could “get” the balanced budgets that were benefiting so many Americans – me included.  Again, without evidence, I decided he did it because he believed Al Gore would be allowed to serve the Presidency he won (Yeah, I know…) and if things began to go off the rails Al could step in with the proper fix…

 But that’s all conjecture.  I have no rational basis for believing any of those “explanations” – I just like Bill – so I can’t exactly point to pure speculation as a defense for signing such devastating legislation.  Besides, if pure speculation serves, it would be equally fair to randomly assume he signed those bills because somebody promised he would end up tremendously rich and a member of the Bilderberg Group.  (Which by the way, he is and he is…)

 The one thing I can NOT credit Bill with is the notion that he didn’t understand the potential impact of the bills he was signing.  I believe that Bill Clinton is the smartest person in any room he’s in.  Certainly he understood the risks of repealing Glass-Steagall.  The reason this is relevant is this: if Bill Clinton knew the risks of the bills he was signing – and, being the smartest person in any room he’s in, he did – having him back in the White House on a “two-fer” – even as the “First Gentleman” –  might not be the boon to liberalism many on the left believe.

 All of which brings us to 2004.  By 2004, several things were apparent: the 2000 “election” had been rigged in Florida.  The banksters were already running wild without controls imposed by Glass-Steagall.  American industry was fleeing – or in some cases being forced – overseas to cheaper labor markets, leaving a devastating hole in the American employment outlook.  All signs pointed to yet another rigged election – this one in Ohio – and the corporate media was covering the whole thing over with front page stories of which starlet had the best bikini body…with pictures!

 For clarity, when I say the GOP rigged the 2000 and 2004 “elections”, what they did was put their finger on the scale.  Their guy doesn’t “win” with 100% of the vote.  The “elections” are close.  In fact, the “elections” NEED to be close or the technique won’t work.  In 2004, there was one candidate with the needed popularity and gravitas to bring enough credibility to the Democratic ticket that it could easily outweigh any GOP fingers on the scale – one: Hillary Clinton.

 Liberal America tried to get her to run.  We practically begged her to run.  But when the chips were down and we needed her most, Hillary said “no”.  She was serving in the Senate at the time and she cited as her reason a promise she had made to her constituents that she wouldn’t run for President.  In honoring that promise, though, she doomed ALL Americans – her constituents included – to four more years of Bush 43.

 Truthfully, I think this is the main reason Barack Obama won in 2008.  When liberal America asked Hillary to fight for us, she said no.  When liberal America asked Obama to fight for us, he stepped up.  As it happens he hasn’t been up to the task but he stepped up.

 I’ll tell you this: Clinton supporters will continue to press the inevitability of Hillary and the truth is, if she ended up with the nomination I could vote for her without too many reservations.  But her “inevitable” moment passed in 2004 and I’d like to check my options first.  After all, it’s hard to put one’s faith in the person who stood idly by and watched while you got your ass kicked…

Always Wrong Conservatives?

I used to say conservatives are always wrong.  It’s a nice little inflammatory line that enjoys the advantage of making conservative heads explode and – truth be told – is rather easily defended.  But over time I’ve realized it’s not correct or, rather, it’s not complete.  In order to be completely correct, it needs two more words so from now on, my new phrase is: conservatives are always wrong for civilization.

It’s a small but important distinction.  I mean, sure, you can have a society in which the wealthy and powerful are allowed – encouraged, even – to use their inherent advantages to prey on the weak and defenseless.  But you can’t have a civilized society in which the wealthy and powerful use their inherent advantages to prey on the weak and defenseless – at least not for long.

You can have a society in which everyone is armed to the teeth and willing to shoot the nearest likewise armed person at the merest perceived insult.  But it won’t be a civilized society.

You can continue to oppress various groups into desperation and beyond – all the while blaming the victims for being victims.  But they’re not going to go gently into that good night and in their desperation, they’re going to disrupt civilization.

You want a society of uneducated, illiterate drones?  Why, you can have that, too, by simply de-funding public education and setting up teachers to fail.  But that’s not civilization.

You can live in a world where pharmaceutical manufacturers wave life-saving medications in front of a dying man and ask “NOW how much would you pay?” But that’s not civilized, either.

As it happens, ALL of those are examples of conservative dogmas promoted in America today.  Each of them can be found in various places throughout history. We’ve seen the results of wealthy people preying on the poor all the while blaming them for being poor.  We called it “fiefdom” and, later, “slavery”.  It took a war to stop it.  Arm everyone to the teeth?  That sounds like the Old West and was addressed, by the way, by men like Wyatt Earp – who solved the problem by passing ordinances taking people’s guns away.  You prefer uneducated illiterates?  Why, we called that ‘the Dark Ages’.

Yet conservatives continue to support these ideas as somehow suddenly credible…because conservatives are always wrong, you know…for civilization