Are We Ever Satisfied With “Enough” or “More?

Ed Raymond

Why Will The French Live Three Years Longer Than Americans?

Maybe it’s a real simple thing. We were watching a show about food the other night and the host showed two plates with food supplied from the same menu: meat and gravy, vegetables with rich sauces, various kinds of bread, and two choices of rich desserts. One plate held French servings and one held American servings. But the French plate had about two-thirds of the food the American plate displayed. The host made a simple statement: “This is why the French live three years longer than we do.”  His meaning was clear. We Americans live in a society that constantly celebrates having more, not just enough. Somehow we have been captured by a culture of greed and consumption, so we demand larger servings and all-we-can-eat buffets, bigger boxes of popcorn at movies, bigger cups of coffee laced with chocolate, and 30-ounce sugary drinks with half pounders and French Fries. Does any other country have binge drinking at interminable happy hours? Have we reached the absolute pinnacle in “having more” when Microsoft in cooperation with the universities of Southampton and Rochester is developing a “smart” bra that will tell a wearer, perhaps even a DD, that she is about to eat too much? Her smart phone will yell at her she has had more than enough.

A cultural historian of the 19th Century recently punditified that “Money doesn’t kill people, but it changes the fabric of daily life.” I disagree. The lack of money kills. The shrinking American middle-class, because of economic inequality, has shortened its life span by about three years in the last eight years. Lack of money does kill people through suicide, drugs, and alcohol. We have lost our democracy to either a oligarchal plutocracy or a plutocratic oligarchy. It doesn’t matter which. Oligarchy is defined as “government by a few” and plutocracy is defined as “government by the wealthy.”  During the George W. Bush years we evidently had a large group of economists who actually thought, like former head of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, that bankers and mortgage lenders were honest. A follower of the free marketeer Ayn Rand, Greenspan said after the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 that he was “shocked” to learn that bankers were dishonest.  He and most of the available economists didn’t recognize the huge housing bubble that would burst and destroy $17 trillion in wealth at $50,000 per American person. Urged by the government to make sub-prime loans,  greedy  and “More” bankers and mortgage lenders made loans to unqualified—and in some cases—the unemployed, and then sold these crappy mortgages camouflaged by good mortgages out the back door as quickly as they could dump them to suckers, pension funds, and other investment entities. Our bankers did not have to hold the original mortgages. A big mistake. Then the whole bubble blew up. But not a single Wall Streeter has done the televised “perp” walk to court or hear a clanging jail cell.

The Evidence Is Clear: American Plutocrats, Oligarchs, And The Supreme Court Have Destroyed Our Democracy

The year 2015 will be one to remember in our economic futures. It’s the year the middle-class no longer had the majority in the U.S., falling below 50%. That means a tremendous loss of political power.. In 1970 the middle-class earned 62% of the income while the upper-class earned 29%. In 34 years the middle-class has dropped to 43% of income, the upper-class rose to 49% of total income. By 2015 the upper-class and the rich have gained so much  20 of the richest households hold more wealth than half the population. Wealthy individuals use tax havens around the world to avoid paying $200 billion to the U.S. Treasury. If we levied a 1% tax on the richest 1% of the American population to reduce income inequality it would bring in $260 billion. If we taxed capital gains from the sale of stocks and other financial assets the same as the income of plumbers, teachers, carpenters, and secretaries it would bring in $600 billion over ten years.

We presently have a growing list of 537 billionaires in the U.S., leading the world in that number—and leading the developed countries in income inequality. The three richest Americans are Bill Gates of Microsoft at $79.2 billion, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway at $72.7 billion, and Larry Ellison of Oracle Software at $54.3 billion. Bill Gates has had an interest in throwing money at solving problems around the world. At first he was convinced he could revolutionize public education by reducing the size of schools. A college dropout himself, he soon discovered that he didn’t know enough about education to make even a little difference.  He then got some scientific help and led campaigns to reduce malaria deaths in Africa. This was a tremendous success.

Working with anti-malaria programs in the undeveloped world, he discovered that over two billion people had no access to toilets. He has supported the development of a composting toilet that can be used in third world countries—but they cost $300 each. People making $2 a day still cannot afford them. Buffett, a bridge partner of Gates, has pledged most of his billions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Evidently Warren trusts Bill to save at least some of the world. Ellison possesses very expensive toys such as submarines, jet and military planes, and huge yachts. He seems to enjoy his great wealth. He loves the game of basketball and several of his yachts have a court on deck. When a game is played while the yacht is under way, Ellison has a speedboat follow behind to pick up the balls that go over the side.That’s rich. He does not seem to be interested in government or politics to the extent he wants to buy presidents and senators. He likes to have fun—and win. He has never had enough homes. At the moment he has more than 40 scattered around the world. He bought Hawaii’s sixth largest island Lana’i in 2012. Lana’i has a 3.5-acre animal rescue shelter which shelters 425 feral cats. Larry has something about cats. His first wife said he mourned the death of his cat Yitzhak for two weeks. Can it be that money isn’t everything to Larry? Is he a plutocrat or a kleptomaniac for collecting homes and cats?

Billionaires Pulling The Strings On Their Political Puppets For More Cash And Power

Michael Bloomberg as an Independent spent some of his $31 billion to serve as mayor of New York City for 12 years. He had two pet projects. He tried to fight obesity among his constituents by proposing to outlaw the sale of 30 ounce-cups of sugar-laced pop which may take its victims down the diabetes road.  He was defeated by those who, by God, wanted the freedom to kill themselves with high doses of sugar or have limbs chopped off because they had turned black with gangrene.  Freedom is a wonderful thing. Ask all those who didn’t fasten their seatbelts and were crushed by their own Belchfire V-8s. Maybe they liked that three-second flight through the windshield before meeting concrete or an oak. Bloomberg also sunk millions fighting the NRA and the gun culture. He didn’t accomplish much there either. It took him awhile to learn that the NRA gun culture and firearms manufacturers just don’t give a crap about 20 first graders in Sandy Hook blown to kingdom come by a nutcase and his crazy mother. The Second Amendment and profits are just too important. But--nice try, Mike.

But we have many other billionaires besides Bloomberg who have more sinister plans for the peasants and pissants. Charles and David Koch have $42.9 billion each and plan on spending at least a billion on the 2016 presidential campaign so they can continue to make huge bank deposits. These guys are busy buying Congressmen by the gross and funding right-wing “think” tanks by the dozen in order to get “more.”  Evidently $42 billion each is just not “enough.” These two are actually leading the destruction of the middle-class with this political program: (1) repeal Social Security, (2) abolish both Medicare and Medicaid, (3) repeal minimum wage laws and unemployment compensation programs, and (4) repeal the Affordable Care Act (They spent almost $150 million trying to defeat ObamaCare).  The Kochs are principal funders of the Tea Party. They also, and I quote, “support the repeal of all taxation.”

The four Waltons of WalMart are the richest family in the world at over $160 billion. These are Sam’s kids who have grown very rich in the short span of about 30 years  by screwing undocumented workers from around the world and having the U.S. taxpayers support their million “associates” with food stamps, health care, and food drives.  WalMart faces about 5,000 lawsuits a year, most of them concerning overtime, off-clock, lunch periods, rest periods, and discrimination. The WalMart Corporation has destroyed tens of thousands of small businesses in this country and around the world, and turned many private business owners into WalMart greeters at slightly more than minimum wage—if they’re lucky. It’s absolutely amazing to read the Costco biography and compare it to the WalMart biography. What a difference in how to treat employees.  The Waltons are violently against unions and have even closed stores to avoid union votes. I see the Walton Family Foundation has again decided to put billions of dollars into charter schools in an attempt to drive public schools and teacher unions out of business. Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson uses his $30 billion to purchase presidents. He has presidential hopefuls come to Vegas for a dog and pony show to see which one he will give his millions to. Sheldon is willing to pay many millions to the president and the Best Congress Money Can Buy to eliminate gambling from the Internet. That’s his special interest.

A Sign We Have Lost The Drive, Wisdom, And Political Power Of The Middle Class

I am not surprised all of the local colleges have declining enrollments. Tuition is impossible for most individuals and families because states no longer support higher education to the extent they should. Assume a huge debt to get a four-year degree job that pays $30,000? Crazy. We are just beginning to pay the piper for creating the most unequal society in the modern era. I see North Dakota is short hundreds of qualified teachers and Minnesota is short thousands. How can we maintain our position in the world if we don’t educate our populace? There’s a fascinating article out of San Francisco that details the problems created by billionaires in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and other parts of the country like Aspen, Colorado.

Property and homes are so expensives it’s impossible for school teachers to live in many cities. The title is “To Stem Teacher Shortages, School Districts and Cities Think About Becoming Landlords.” As an example 26-year-old Esmeralda Jimenez, a first grade teacher in San Francisco, pays 43% of her teaching salary to live in dumpy studio apartment far from her school site. It’s in an area where she doesn’t dare go out after dark, the sidewalks are covered with human feces, and discarded needles decorate what little grass there is. In Silicon Valley two-bedroom unlivable fixer-uppers are priced at $1.5 million. In San Jose near Google, Facebook, and Apple the median home value is $922,100, five times the national average. Even doctors and lawyers are priced out of homes unless they are lobbyists for Google and other billionaires. In 2005 Google, as an example, had hired one lobbyist. In 2015 the corporation has hired 100 lobbyists just to lobby Congress to protect it from union organizers, proposed tax increases—and the right to park most of their profits overseas to avoid taxes.