Why I Hate Verizon

So the other day I got a text message from Verizon saying that we were over our plan limit in voice usage and would be charged extra. How much extra? 45 cents a minute! So I did some investigating to see which of our four family phones was responsible. It turned out that my son had logged over a thousand minutes to a Toll Free number that he had to call for on-the-job training. But, one might ask, aren’t calls to “toll free” numbers – um – toll free? Well, apparently, only if they are to other Verizon accounts. And how would one discern the phone carrier one was calling? One wouldn’t.

Since when did the term “Toll Free” become ambiguous? I know I can’t be the only one who is mad as hell about the myriad ways we are gouged every day by telephone and cable companies. But free market competition and deregulation keeps prices down, right? That’s what they tell us. It’s a lie.

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What Joe Should Have Said

When Paul Ryan asserted that the U.S. could achieve growth through further tax cuts, he named JFK as an example. Instead of saying “So now you’re Jack Kennedy,” Biden could have said:

“Yes, my friend, Kennedy lowered top tax rates – from 90% to 70%. He did that at a time when much of the war debt had been paid down because we had a responsible Republican in office – Eisenhower – and the Middle Class was ascending. Why were they ascending? Because World War II veterans were benefiting from the GI Bill that paid for higher education. Because factories, with no foreign competition, were humming and unions were strong. When productivity went up, so did real wages. That’s not happening now. Since the seventies, worker wages have risen a measly 5.7% while CEO pay spiked a whopping 725%.

Today our top tax rate is 35%. The rich are paying the lowest taxes in 60 years while Middle Class kids are buried in student loan debt. Mitt Romney gets a tax deduction for a dancing horse and you think we should eliminate mortgage interest deductions for middle class families. Without that deduction, many families won’t be able to afford to stay in their homes.

And since you’re bringing up the Kennedy name, Ted Kennedy was a lifelong advocate for universal healthcare, Robert Kennedy was a champion for civil rights, John was a war hero and Joe Jr. died in WWII fighting for democracy. Before you start throwing the Kennedy name around you’d better do your homework, Sonny, because you and Mitt Romney have nothing in common with anyone named Kennedy.”

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A Modest Proposal

Conventional wisdom says that in therapy, the real work happens in the last 10 minutes of the session. So here’s an idea: Convene the do-nothing Congress only for the 2-month lame-duck session out of each 24-month term. We might actually have a chance of getting something done. Then cut Congressional salaries and all associated costs by 90%.

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Whose Debt?

Republicans keep telling us the budget deficit is bad for future generations who will be saddled with the debt.  According to them, our national debt was caused by Democrats’ profligate spending on things like Head Start, infant nutrition programs, food stamps, Social Security, health care, education and infrastructure.  Their solution is to cut everything people actually need.  But they don’t think we spend enough on defense which reminds me of the bumper sticker suggesting the Pentagon have a bake sale.

So how much is the national debt really costing us?  Business Insider’s Joe Wiesenthal says interest on the national debt divided equally among every man, woman and child came to $700 a head in 2011, which is actually less than it cost us in the 90s because of low interest rates.

Major news sources including the Wall St. Journal and ABC News  tell us that the national debt (we’re talking about the principal here)  is currently equal to $45,000 per capita.  That debt includes money we owe ourselves to repay the Social Security Trust Fund – the not-locked box that Congress continually raids to pay for other things that are not Social Security. (Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind.)

So let’s turn our attention to personal debt – the money you have to repay all by your lonesome if you don’t want debt collectors to make your life a living hell.   Families with at least one credit card owe an average of $15,950 in credit card debt and a study by the Pew Research Center  indicates that 19% of all households are also burdened by student loan debt.  The average student debt is over $26,000 and obviously impacts the young (aka future generation) disproportionately.

So what’s worse, your personal $41,950 debt (assuming you have a credit card and a student loan) or your $45,000 national debt?  Personally I’d take the national debt.  Why?  Because I share it with 312 million people (and growing), and because people who have more money than I do will pay more taxes and therefore a greater share of the debt.   At least that’s how it used to work before the GOP convinced a lot of dopes that less is more when it comes to taxes on the rich.

Nobody is going to turn you down for a car loan or a mortgage because of the size of your share of the national debt, but they will if you’re buried in personal debt.  Which means that fewer cars and houses will be sold, which means that fewer jobs will be created, which means that the economy will continue to suck.

But student loans and maxed out credit cards won’t be the only thing holding us down.  Prior to the New Deal, old people who had no money and no family to take them in, actually lived in County “poor houses.”  So, by all means, cut Social Security benefits.   Hope you’ve got room for Grama and Grampa in your studio apartment.

But Gram and Gramps are living a lot longer, so shouldn’t they keep working until they’re 70 (or 90)?  Sure, why not – if they still have all their marbles and don’t have to do any heavy lifting that causes their brittle bones to snap like last year’s Thanksgiving wishbone.

But wait.  Isn’t there a job shortage?  Aren’t recent college graduates begging for well-paying jobs?  Jobs they’ll need to pay back their loans?  Don’t we want old people to retire so young people can get jobs?  If Boomers can’t retire because their 401Ks tanked and their Social Security is a pittance, isn’t that bad for future generations?

Saddle up.

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Change the 1% Can Believe In

A number of pundits and some economists are talking about “structural unemployment.”  They assert that changes brought about by globalization, technology and worker preparedness (or lack thereof) mean that we should get used to higher unemployment and lower wages.

If you’re a middle- or low-income worker, the message is: brace for change.  Lower your expectations.  Don’t expect to be going on any more vacations and definitely don’t get sick.  If you’re a child who wasn’t lucky enough to be born a Rockefeller or a Romney, expect to be paying back your student loans until your own kids are ready to enroll.

But why aren’t shareholders and occupants of the C-Suites being told to lower their expectations – to tighten the old belt a few notches?  Republicans love to hate “redistribution” of wealth through taxation.  But they love redistribution when it means that top managers and shareholders get an ever bigger piece of the profit pie.

A graph by Lawrence Mishel  shows that until the early 70s, increases in productivity were matched by increases in wages.  Since then, wages have hardly budged as productivity continues to increase.  So, where are the profits going?

Do I really have to tell you?  According to the Economic Policy Institute,  CEO pay spiked 725% between 1978 and 2011, while worker pay rose just 5.7%.

If you want to know what CEOs make relative to the median worker, click here.  Then light your torch and grab your pitchfork.

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The Price of Free Speech

A California man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, aka Sam Bacile, is alleged to be the creator of a short inflammatory film titled “Innocence of Muslims” mocking the Prophet Mohammad, which he posted on YouTube in Arabic translation. As reported in the New York Times, “The film sparked a violent protest at the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi during which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed on Tuesday. Protests have spread to other countries across the Muslim world.”

Prior to the attack in Benghazi, the American Embassy in Cairo in an attempt to quell unrest said it deplored “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

Then Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans decided to dip their oars in. Romney chastised the President for “apologizing” for America. Senator John Kyl made yet another inapt rape analogy and Reince Priebus accused the President of sympathizing with the attackers.

Republicans have a long-running hatred of the ACLU, defender of the U.S. Constitution and specifically First Amendment rights. The ACLU has defended everyone from Nazis to pornographers. So it is ironic that Free Speech has suddenly become the Republicans’ most hallowed value. (That is, until someone mentions gun control.) Perhaps the turning point was when the Supreme Court defined money as speech.

But Republicans act as if no one, including government, has the right to criticize or disagree with the filmmaker. It is every citizen’s right and responsibility – and our government’s – to condemn hateful, provocative speech.

Just as millions of peace-loving Muslims throughout the Middle East do not want to be branded terrorists because of the actions of the few, I don’t want to be branded a narrow-minded, intolerant bigot. Because I condemn the actions of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, I am not condoning the actions of murderers. They alone are responsible for their actions, as Nakoula is for his. And that’s the bottom line: responsibility.

Yes, as Americans we can say anything we want. On Friday, I am free to post caricatures of my boss on my Facebook page if I want to. On Monday, I may also be free to look for another job.

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God Must Be Angry With the Republican Party

What other reason could there be for Hurricane Isaac raining on their convention parade? Couldn’t be climate change – no such thing. And Evangelists are always pointing out how God’s wrath is visited upon “sinners” like gays and feminists in the form of disease and other disasters. So take heed all ye believers. God is not on the Republican team.

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All Things Being Unequal

Republicans argue that society is made up of job creators and moochers – contributors and extractors.  In Republican World, higher taxes punish those who are “more productive.”  Higher taxes are an unfair burden  imposed on the “producers”  by a too-powerful government which  “steals” their hard-earned cash and redistributes it to the “moochers.”

In Republican World, the word “productive” is simply code for “rich.”  Republicans and their wealthy sugar daddies equate money with hard work and virtue.  Because they earn more money, they believe they work harder and are more virtuous than those who earn less money.  They believe that anyone who needs any kind of subsidy from the government is shiftless and lazy.

The twenty-something Ivy Leaguer who sits in front of a computer screen all day, buying and selling pieces of paper, sincerely believes he works harder than a pre-school teacher who cares for 25 toddlers during the day and pours drinks for arrogant MBAs at her second job tending bar at night.  Or than the guy who picks strawberries for ten hours a day in the blazing sun.  Or the nurse who empties his bedpan should he ever be so unfortunate as to become sick.

In Republican World, the waitress who works 40 hours a week for minimum wage and no health benefits is a moocher because she needs subsidized child care.  The janitor who works for thirty years, gets cancer, loses his job and then his health insurance is a moocher when he’s forced to resort to Medicaid.  The assembly-line worker who makes one 500th of what the CEO earns and is lucky enough to have good health benefits and a pension plan is a moocher because he’s taking money out of stockholders’ pockets.

Taking the Republican argument at face value, moochers are people who extract more value than they contribute.  So when a corporate executive fails, destroys jobs and stockholder value and is rewarded with a golden parachute – what does that make him?  A producer or a moocher?

Those who got laid off because of the Head Moocher’s – I mean Producer’s – incompetence are rewarded with unemployment benefits averaging $295 per week.  An amount so “generous” in the eyes of the “Producers” that it is a disincentive to work.  With all these disincentives – it’s a miracle that anyone works!

Republicans see themselves as clear-eyed pragmatists and Democrats as dreamy idealists who just don’t understand  the real world.  Yet it is Republicans who call climate change a hoax and evolution an unproven “theory.”   It is Republicans who insist that universal healthcare deprives us of our freedom while indiscriminate strip searches do not.    It is Republicans who, in spite of thirty years of evidence to the contrary, insist that giving more to the rich – in the form of lower taxes – helps  the poor.

Republicans love the myth of the self-made man because it helps justify their unwillingness to contribute to the well being of society as a whole. In their fantasy world, all children are born with equal opportunities and if everyone doesn’t become a successful hedge fund manager – well – it’s because they didn’t have a strong enough work ethic.

“For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” Luke 12:48

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Run Stephen Run!

Stephen Colbert should run for President as the Republican Party candidate. Just think, if he won the nomination, we’d still have a Democrat and a Republican in the race!

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Reason has Left the Building

Ron Paul admirers complain that he doesn’t get enough respect or attention from the media. I agree with the attention part. Unfortunately too many people admire Paul because he “sticks to his guns” even if the gun is pointed at our collective heads. Sane people call that suicide.

Some Democrats like Paul because he’s against the wars and wants to cut military spending. This is the political equivalent of putting a group of monkeys in a room with a typewriter. When someone is against government in all its manifestations, eventually you’re bound to find something you can agree on. That doesn’t mean the man isn’t a lunatic. Or that the novel the monkeys eventually write is readable.

Some Democrats liked John McCain because, in the years before he became a presidential candidate, he wasn’t afraid to vote contrary to the party line. That didn’t make him moderate; it just indicated that he was, in his own words, a maverick. Others might say he was simply contrary.

We shouldn’t be voting for personality traits. We’re not electing a prom king or queen. “Likeability” – the trait that George W. Bush had in spades – is important in a brother-in-law, but it’s not top of the list of what one looks for in the leader of the free world. I can forgive the President of the United States if he has a prickly side. In fact, I’d welcome another LBJ about now. We should be voting for leadership qualities such as intelligence, thoughtfulness and shared values as demonstrated by a candidate’s past behavior and the ability to act in the best interests of the country as a whole.

That’s what makes it hard for Republicans. Of their two top candidates, one has no core values and the other has values straight out of Dickens. Even his name, Newt Gingrich, sounds Dickensian. Or is it Seussian? Who can forget Mr. Murdstone? Or the Grinch?

The only reasonable Republican candidate, Jon Huntsman, just can’t get a date to the dance. In the Republicans’ house, reason has left the room and along with it, the ability to be reasonable. Republicans aren’t the loyal opposition – they’re just the opposition. In my book – one that wasn’t written by monkeys – that makes them unqualified to govern.

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