How do we fix America? It’s simple really

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To change America we are all going to have to face some hard realities. These realities will have to be faced from the richest one percent to the least among us in order for this change to happen. The first reality is we are not all going to be equal monetarily. There will always be those that have more than us.

We should all be okay with that. But having more does not and cannot mean that you have it all.

Americans must stop believing that if I just work hard enough I can become a multi-millionaire or billionaire. This is never going to happen for 90 percent of us. It’s ludicrous to even to think that it could or should.

If it did who would pump the gas, checkout the groceries, build the house, teach, be the town clerk, and a hundred thousand other jobs that people do. This idea that we can all be exorbitantly rich is destroying our humanity and any future for our posterity.

I am going to explain how to change America. There will be those who say he just doesn’t understand how the economy works, wall street, and the free market system. I do understand it and I understand that those who are in control of it have used smoke and mirrors to make it sound complicated when in truth it’s quite simple. Here it is.

Raise wages and lower prices. Stop asking what the market will allow. Charging what the market will allow simply means people should and will make as much profit as possible. Instead of asking how much profit is possible, start asking how much profit is enough.

Wal-Mart made roughly $16 billion in profits in 2013. This was net profit after everything else was paid including their stockholders. What if by raising wages and lowering prices they only made $10 billion.  How much does one need to live well?

Instead of Albert Puhols making $275 million over ten years he only makes $100 million and the savings are passed on to the price of a ticket, popcorn, or hot dog, at the ballpark. Isn’t $100 million
enough?  BP oil made $4.13 billion in the first quarter of this year. How much profit is enough.

Americans have to change the idea that has somehow manifested itself into their beliefs that everyone should try to get as much as they possibly can. This belief system has created an America where the many are not getting what they deserve.

Raising wages and lowering prices will promote many things. First workers would be able to work a 40 hour a week job that would allow them a decent life style. By decent I am speaking of a home, car, food, a little savings perhaps and a small vacation once a year. Most Americans would be okay with that.

Those still earning $10 billion a year or a $100 million over ten years would still be in a socioeconomic group far out of reach of those workers. The difference would be those workers would still be content. As I mentioned before Americans understand that we cannot all be monetarily equal. No one expects that. They do however expect to be paid a livable wage for a 40 hour work week.

Workers earning enough to afford a decent life will also lead to less crime…cost of policing drops, be healthier…cost of insurance drops, a more engaged student body…a more educated work force and populace, will be more productive in their jobs, better products, more actively engaged in civic affairs…fewer incumbents if they fail to do their jobs, and an overall better sense of happiness and well being in the United States.

The goal of all citizens should be in building a better society. This will equate to fewer fears, better services and equality. I am not speaking of a utopia, I am speaking of a society where people who work are valued and people realize the value of that work no matter what that work might be.

American Wars of Conquest

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I am happy to be an American and enjoy the freedom this gives me. But as a student of history I know that America’s past is made up of a series of events. Some we can be proud of, and others we should learn from.

America’s experiment with democracy is unlike any other country before it, and yet America is like every country that has become a world power. It is impossible to become a world power without trampling on the rights of others now and then.

Andrew Bernstein, a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute, wrote, “The United States has never fought a war of conquest.” Anybody who has studied American history knows this is not true.

In 1846 the United States started a war with Mexico that ended with the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny. It gave us the territory that would become the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The Mexican people certainly viewed this as a war of conquest.

Henry David Thoreau wrote his now famous “Essay on Civil Disobedience” during that war. President, James K. Polk settled a boundary dispute with the British government over Canada just prior to it. He did this so he would not have to fight a war on two fronts. This shows prior intent on the part of Mr. Polk to engage in a war.

The American government engaged native American tribes in many wars of conquest beginning in the 1700s and lasting very close to the 20th century. It would be foolish to try and convince Native Americans that these wars were not about conquest.

In 1898 fearing England and Germany were going to dominate trade with China, the United States government pushed for war with Spain. This was done under the pretext of freeing Cuba and the Philippines. In reality the American government needed bases in the Pacific to continue its Western expansion. The Philippine-American War that arose as a result was much more costly to Americans than the Spanish-American War. This is a fact not well known to many Americans.

In 1853 the United States engaged Japan in gunboat diplomacy and forced them to open their country to trade. Japan learned a lesson from this. The lesson? If you don’t want another country to dictate policy to you then you need to be able to defend yourself. Japan quickly modernized their military and within fifty years became a power that threatened America’s expansion in the Pacific Region.

This western expansion would ultimately put us on a collision course with the empire of Japan, culminating in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. A Japanese Foreign Minister stated, “The United States taught Japan the game of poker and after acquiring all the chips pronounced the game immoral.”

At the end of World War Two, Vietnam wished to become independent. France had suffered a quick and humiliating defeat at the hands of Germany. They wished to retain Vietnam as their colony. Washington wanted France to help them rebuild Europe.

Because of this Washington financed the French-Indochina War from 1946-1954. France lost. Instead of letting Vietnam decide its own fate the United States intervened. This culminated in the Vietnam War lasting from 1965-1975.

In 1953 the United States installed the Shah Reza Pahlevi in power in Iran. He would control Iran until he was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. At this point the United States helped Saddam Hussein come to power in Iraq. He would be supported by the United States until he invaded Kuwait leading to the First Gulf War.

President Reagan said that Saddam was the greatest chance for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice speaking in Cairo in 2005 stated, “For 60 years my country has pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region…by trying to purchase stability at the price of liberty, we achieved neither and we saw the result of that on a fine September morning.”

Condoleezza Rice was admitting the problem with American foreign policy. That foreign policy led others to become angry and attack the United States. She got it. She understood. Unfortunately as our two current wars show, it hasn’t changed it.

The study of history is the study of a series of events that often lead to war. Before America gets involved in its next conflict our leaders need to look at our past and decide if war is really the answer or is time to look at America’s foreign policy.

 

The Finances of Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders filed his tax returns and Senate financial disclosures during his campaign. They showed he earned an income of $205,271 and payed $31,825 in taxes for 2014. These returns only covered until his campaign started.

His Senate financial disclosure showed that he had to fend off $50,000 in credit card debt and nearly $1 million in mortgage debt for the same period. On top of this he reported a total net worth of only $528,014.

However in August Senator Sanders and his wife paid $600,000 in cash for a summer “vacation home” with 500 feet of Lake Frontage on Lake Champlain. Part of this his wife said came from the sale of a home that had been in her family since 1900. Perhaps it did! Still after having to fend of $50,000 in credit card debt and a million dollar mortgage debt why would they purchase another home especially when it cost Sanders more than his stated net-worth.

Sanders new political organization “Our Revolution” tax status is 501(c)(4) which simply means it can collect large sums of money from anonymous sources. Many of Sander’s people including, Kenneth Pennington, who was the digital director of Our Revolution have quit as a result of this and over questions about his finances that have arisen since he left the race. Oddly, Sanders has decried how all this money in politics has destroyed the democratic process.

None of this has been a story in Vermont where Sanders has “Rock Star” status. He needs no money for reelection campaigns even though he is 74 years old and will likely serve until his death as will Senator Leahy who is 76 and will be elected for another six years in November.

Sorry Mr. Milne but these two men could die and they would still be reelected if their names were on the ballot. It’s one of the reasons we need term limits. As for Bernie’s financial situation, it just seemed a little odd to me.

The Hijacking of the American Economy

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The American people have heard a lot about the state of the economy. It has been said the Great Recession is over; that thousands of jobs have been added and the economy is growing, though slowly.

The truth is the economic system in the United States has been hijacked. It’s been hijacked by a message formulated by the corporations and their minions. Their minions are Congress and the military media industrial complex. Unfortunately a lot of small business owners, who after having heard the message so many times and having concluded that they are equal to the corporations that formulated the message, must now be included among the corporate minions.

The message: “Corporations want to create good paying jobs for Americans and could do so if only the President and Congress would stop making laws that interfere with their ability to do business. If, the message continues, The President and Congress stopped regulating business; these corporations could hire more people, pay higher wages and deliver better benefits.”

The first problem is of course, the message is a lie. These corporations tell the American worker and small businessman that big government is the problem; however these same corporations are the ones that own the White House and Congress. They are the ones making the laws and the laws benefit only them.

These laws are for the little people; the small business owner and the American worker, not the corporations.

The corporations care about one thing and one thing only, profit! A current example is the outrage over the cost of the Epi Pen. From 2007 to 2016, Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch’s total compensation went from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068. That’s a 671 percent increase. During the same period, the company raised the price of the Epi Pen, with the average wholesale price going from $56.64 to $600.

In 2015 Bresch also merged Mylan with a company in the Netherlands there by avoiding paying US taxes. Based on those numbers it would be expected that employees of Mylan would have seen their wages increase as well. However research shows that an employee at Mylan with 1-4 years makes around $12.98 an hour and an employee with 10-19 years make around $23.06.

The hourly wage of $12.98 an hour is not a livable wage and yet Ms. Bresch is making $19 million while her company escapes paying taxes in the United States.

This is the other side of the message, the one that corporations don’t want the American worker and small businessman to see. This is the reality of our current economic system.

For those who still believe the lie you have been told, I would ask you to look at three simple problems behind the message being peddled by these corporations.

The first problem is the growing inequality in compensation, or skyrocketing pay for those at the top of the economy, such as Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, compared to everyone else.

The second problem is that the increased profits from increased productivity are going to corporate profits and not workers wages as is seen with the situation at Mylan.

The third problem is the increase in consumer prices. Forty years of stagnant wages don’t stretch as far in today’s economy and workers find themselves always playing catch-up. The American worker always thinks if I could make just a little more I could make it. That’s the con. The corporations have all the cards, pull all the strings and the worker will always be just catching-up.

The message circulated by these corporations answers all three of the problems I just posted. They do it by labeling anyone who complains, lazy, and unwilling to work hard to attain what these corporations have. It’s left out there that those who complain are just jealous of the rich and powerful and that if they worked harder and complained less they too could succeed.

However research shows that Americans are working harder, are producing more economic growth, but continue to fall farther and farther behind. Beginning in 1973 productivity, or the amount of economic output generated by an average hour of work, grew 72.2 percent. On the other hand, pay for the typical worker rose just 9.2 percent.

These corporations inject class warfare into our midst and have American workers blaming those less fortunate for the state of the economy. It’s easier to target the vulnerable than it is to blame powerful corporations like Mylan, Amazon, GE, and dozens of others for laundering their money elsewhere in order to avoid paying taxes to the US government.

These corporations with the help of their minions in Congress and the media keep telling the American people that inflation is low, that it has been kept under control. Anybody paying attention knows that statement is ludicrous.

Leona Helmsley once stated openly what all these corporations really believe. “We don’t pay taxes. The little people do.”

As long as this message goes unchallenged by the American worker and the small businessman, wages for the American worker will continue to stagnate, consumer prices will continue to rise, and corporations will reap the massive benefits!

The Aftermath of September 11, 2016

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The Fifteenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001 passed quietly in the United States. There were no attacks, moments of silence were respected and loved ones remembered. Fifteen years ago would we have expected that as a people and a nation we would have made so little progress in recovering from that horrible day?

The aftermath of September 11 was completely mishandled by the Bush administration and the situation faced by the United States and countries around the world today are a direct result of that. I know that sounds too simple but there is an old saying that goes, “It’s as plain as the nose on your face. This is one of those times. Following the attacks of September 11, countries from around the globe showed their support for the United States.

In France, a well-known newspaper, Le Monde, ran a headline reading, “We Are All Americans.” In Tehran, an entire stadium of people gathered for a soccer match observed a moment of silence, and in Turkey, flags flew at half-staff. In Beijing, tens of thousands of people visited the U.S. Embassy, leaving flowers, cards, funeral wreaths and hand-written notes of condolence on the sidewalk out front. In mosques in Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and Sudan clerics’ condemned the cowardly and un-Islamic attacks.

People around the world were in solidarity with the United States. They felt our anguish. Many had seen bombs blow apart their own cities and towns over the years and knew only too well the horror of it.

Two years later that solidarity and good will had been squandered by the Bush administration; squandered with little thought to the future. It was squandered for stock options and the Bush administration has yet to answer for it or the resulting chaos it has caused around the world.

What am I referring to when I talk about stock options? I am talking about the real cause of war, greed and profiteering.  Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense from March 1989 through January of 1993. As secretary of defense, Cheney oversaw one of the largest privatization efforts in the history of the Pentagon.

In 1992, the Pentagon, then under Cheney’s direction, paid Texas-based Brown & Root Services (BRS) which is owned  by, Halliburton, $3.9 million to produce a classified report detailing how private companies, like itself , could help provide logistics for American troops in potential war zones around the world. The idea being that these companies could provide services for the military at a cheaper price than the military could do it for them. I suspect many Americans today believe that the military cooks its own food, does its own laundry, and guards it own generals; it used to but that is no longer the case.

Dick Cheney convinced people that it would be more cost effective to outsource this work in much the same way other American jobs have been outsourced under what has become known as Globalization. As Secretary of Defense, Cheney oversaw one of the largest privatization efforts in the history of the Pentagon, steering millions of military dollars to civilian contractors.

In 1995 Dick Cheney then became CEO of Halliburton even though he had no previous experience in running a multinational company. As Secretary of Defense he privatizes large parts of the military giving those contracts to Halliburton and its subsidiaries and then in 1995 he is offered the position of CEO of these very same companies; coincidence perhaps.

Between 1992 and 1999, the Pentagon then paid BRS more than $1.2 billion for its work in countries around the globe including Somalia.  In May of 1999, the US Army Corps of Engineers re-enlisted the company’s help in the Balkans, giving it a new five-year contract worth $731 million while Cheney was CEO.

On July 25, 2000 George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney to be his vice-president. Cheney had already informed the Board of Halliburton Co. that he would have to step down if selected as Bush’s running mate. A month prior to this Cheney had sold half of his stock in Halliburton. Again, perhaps this was mere coincidence.

 Halliburton’s board of directors voted to award Cheney early retirement when he quit his job, even though he was too young to qualify under his contract. That flexibility enabled him to leave with a retirement package, including stock options, worth millions more than if he had simply resigned. Thus Cheney received roughly $34 million dollars by Halliburton as he left to become vice-president.

Some people have referred to that as a signing bonus. Of course in financial terms it’s called a payout or severance package but in keeping with what Cheney had done as Secretary of State; privatizing large segments of the military, awarding those private contracts to Halliburton and then taking over as CEO of Halliburton, it does start to look a little suspect. But why would a company pay their former CEO to become vice-president of the United States?

The attack on Afghanistan dubbed “Operation Enduring Freedom” has never been questioned by Americans, the media or other countries around the world. It was necessary and justified. It was understood that it was an act of self-defense. The training camps used by the 911 attackers and those still being trained there had to be destroyed.

That job had been completed by January of 2002. The United States and the Bush administration still shared the solidarity and the goodwill of nations around the globe; however that was about to change.

 On November 27, 2001, in a report released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it confirms that policy makers were already looking for ways to justify invading Iraq as indicated by Rumsfeld’s first point, focus on WMD. Other reports indicate that even before 911 the Bush administration was trying to figure out just how to justify an unprovoked attack given the lack of any real evidence that Iraq was a threat to the U.S., how to win over allies that would be willing to join in the U.S. invasion and how to sell the administration’s controversial choices to the American people

The question has always been why attack Iraq? Saddam Hussein was boxed in. The United States had “No fly zones in the North and the South.” Sanctions had devastated the Iraq economy and Hussein himself knew that if he wanted to stay in power he couldn’t afford even one more military incursion anywhere. Iraq was a “Paper Tiger” and everyone knew it. It had not attacked the United States, could not be considered a threat and had nothing to do with 911. The question remains, why attack Iraq?

In an interview in 1994 and quoted in Military.com explaining why after the Gulf War, the U.S. had no choice but to keep Saddam Hussein in power Dick Cheney stated, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BEsZMvrq-I

“If we had gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. It would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world. And if you take down the central government in Iraq, you could easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have, the west. Part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim. Fought over for eight years. In the north, you’ve got the Kurds. And if the Kurds spin loose and join with Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. The other thing is casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact that we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had, but for the 146 Americans killed in action and for the families it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad and took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? And our judgment was not very many, and I think we got it right.”

On March 16, 2003 on Meet the Press Tim Russert asked then vice-president Cheney “Do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?” Cheney responded, “Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House….The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.”

Dick Cheney got it right in 1994 and was dead wrong in 2003. The scenario he painted in 1994 was the exact scenario that took place in Iraq when the United States invaded in 2003 and that scenario continues to play out today with all the pieces he mentioned; Syrians, Iranians, Turkey, the Kurds and few he didn’t see at the time such as ISIS, and various other groups now fighting there.

What happened that altered Dick Cheney’s perfect perspective, his total understanding of the situation in Iraq if it were to be invaded. What is it that often changes a man’s outlook, his beliefs, his views, and his integrity? The answer is of course money, $34 million dollars.

President George W. Bush has stated that his administration in hindsight had relied on faulty intelligence. Dick Cheney made the statement, “Simply stated, there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” However George Tenent, Director of the CIA stated, The CIA informed policymakers it had “no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.” The “massive stockpile” was just literally made up.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 millions of people around the world protested the coming invasion of Iraq. The same people from the same nations around the globe who had stood by the United States, who had shown their solidarity in a time of crisis and turmoil were now protesting what they viewed as naked aggression against a country that had not attacked, threatened or had the ability to threaten the United States and who at the time was not threatening any of its neighbors; a country and a people that had known nothing but war since 1979.

Their protests fell on deaf ears. “War is a racket.” So said Smedley Butler, a decorated Marine and the only people it serves are those who profit from it. When the Iraq War was over Halliburton had made a profit of $39.9 billion dollars. Even subtracting Dick Cheney’s “thirty pieces of silver” adjusting for inflation, $34 million dollars, it’s a staggering profit.

The cost of that profit, 5000, American lives, 40,000 wounded, approximately 200,000 Iraqi lives, figures vary, a staggering cost to the American economy in lost dollars for projects at home and the loss of goodwill and solidarity from people and nations around the world and of course the peace.

Iraq has become exactly what Dick Cheney predicted it would. Pieces of it have flown off in all directions creating ISIS, the Syrian Civil War, more terrorist attacks around the world and a sense of despair, polarization, trepidation, and hatred in the United States. The byproduct of which may be a Trump presidency which might yet be the worst thing the United States sees spawned by the aftermath of September 11, 2001.