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I have used the term “pissants” in columns to describe the little people who do our scutwork at below-living wages and the troops known as grunts who actually do all of the hard fighting in our wars. I never thought I would use it to describe a 51-year-old female factory worker who lost her job because her boss wouldn’t allow her to go to the restroom while on the Electrolux assembly line in St. Cloud. After a desperate 40 minutes, she finally took a plastic bag, put it in a cardboard box, and urinated in it by her work station. This pissant was fired five days later for a “health and safety violation.” According to the Star Tribune story, she said, “I knew I couldn’t hold it any longer. I would have wet my pants and I would never live it down.” I have a question: what has this country come to when a worker is denied access to a restroom?
The Constant Search For Outrageous Fortune At Somebody Else’s Bladder Pain
Minnesota state law is quite clear: “An employer must allow each employee adequate time from work within each four consecutive hours of work to utilize the nearest convenient restroom.” Electrolux is claiming they have complied with the law by providing a half-hour lunch break and two ten-minute breaks for every four hours for restroom use. Words, words, words. Lily Prince of Cold Spring has her job back after eleven months because an arbitrator reversed her firing. Even after her reinstatement, one could say Prince is pissed, because she is taking her employer to court over the incident. A judge has refused to dismiss the case.
So this is what has come to pass in our hell-bent descent in this country to third-world status. In Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Hamlet utters a famous soliloquy about life and death: “To be, or not to be—that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them is devoutly to be wished.” Hamlet is asking whether to live a troubled life or to commit suicide and end it. Now laborers and employers are asking themselves the immortal question: “To pee, or not to pee—that is the question.” What a comedown from life or death to greed.
In a class-action ruling in 2008 against WalMart and Sam’s Club, a Dakota County (MN) judge said that between 1998 and 2004 the employees of the richest family in the world missed 1.5 million rest breaks. The judge specifically mentioned WalMart employee Nancy Braun, who testified that she suffered “the humiliating experience of soiling herself while at work because she was not permitted to use the restroom.” The suit was settled for $54.5 million. Peanuts—even rotten WalMart peanuts. Each WalMart family member in 2013 made over $26.9 million a day from investments, so one of the six heirs could have paid the whole suit from two days’ profits.
Whatever Happened To “Community” And “Social Cohesion?”
One of my brothers lives in a Florida gated community much like Sanford, Florida, where teenager Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. Security checks your license at the gate to see if your relatives have registered you so that you can drive on the streets of the community. Residents don’t want their taxes going to the folks who live in the ghettos. Wealthy suburbs want to isolate themselves from the city they border. The wealthy of East Baton Rouge Parish want to separate from poverty-stricken sections of Baton Rouge proper by changing school district lines.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich says we suffer from a “We” problem, as in “Why should we pay for them?” An argument about funding for school lunches in Minnesota prompted this Star Tribune letter from Bret Collier of Big Lake: “At what point have I become responsible for feeding the neighbor kid? Children need to be taught that if they don’t have any money, they can’t eat. Now, if parents are unable to supply the minimum money for their children to eat lunch, they most likely are unable to supply their children with any type of parenting, and shouldn’t have children, or their children should be removed from them.” We have friends in Big Lake. I hope this Tea Party-Nazi idiot does not live next door to them.
Investor Peter Schiff maintains that “We are not created equal. I am worth way more than you. People don’t go hungry in a capitalistic economy. The mentally retarded could be paid $2 an hour. As the Founding Fathers said: ‘We are not equal. You’re worth what you’re worth.’” This guy is a vegetable who lives in a community somewhere.
Reich states, “Being rich in today’s America means not having to cross anyone who isn’t. Exclusive prep schools, elite colleges, private jets, gated communities, tony resorts, symphony halls and opera houses, and vacation homes in the Hamptons and other exclusive vacation sites all insulate them from the rabble.”
Hi! I’m Mr. Rabble! I am not a “We”! I’m a “Them”!
Just One Emergency Away From Disaster
Research done by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CED) reveals that 44 percent of U.S. families live in “liquid asset poverty,” which is defined as owning less than three months’ worth of savings ($5,887 for a family of four). Another survey by Bankrate.com reports that only one in four Americans has saved enough money to cover six months’ worth of expenses if a family emergency comes up. The CED report also reveals that 25 percent of middle-class households have less than three months of savings.
The retirement situation for the 99 Percent is a huge ticking time bomb. The One Percent families each made an average of $40 million in 2013, while 93 percent of Americans lost “wealth” during the “recovery.” Over 12,000 of the richest families made an average of $100,000 every day of 2013. The wealthy gained over $8 trillion in 2013. At the same time, the National Institute on Retirement Security has concluded that the 99 Percent are $6.8 trillion short of having an adequate retirement.
Even before the recession, the number of seniors between 75 and 84 doubled in poverty. By 2030 the U.S. will have 70 million elderly between those ages. Retirement funds are woefully short in the 50 to 64-year-olds at $6,500 total. That’s hardly enough for two months. A study by Good Jobs First reveals that the ten states with huge deficiencies in pension funds actually paid large corporate subsidies, opened tax loopholes, and gave tax breaks to business that went way beyond their pension costs. So the states have tinkled on Joe and Jane Sixpack with a flood. The ever-present 401(k) scams and scandals run by Wall Street banksters take almost 40 percent from every 401(k) account, turning them into 201(k)s. No bankster has gone to jail yet for committing fraud, deception, and outright theft. According to the U.S. Office of Inspector General, a household making $25,500 spends $2,412 on bank fees, further enriching the big banks that are too big to take to court—and too big to care about anybody except themselves.
Psychotic Billionaires Continue To Worship The Almighty Dollar
In his early quest for billions Bill Gates tried to get the Internal Revenue Service to classify all of Microsoft’s data and computer programmers as independent contractors. If his request was approved, he would not have to pay Social Security, unemployment insurance and other numerous individual benefits for them, thus saving an absolute fortune. The IRS said, “Bill, these are just ordinary day-to-day workers. Pay up.”
There is an interesting class-action lawsuit involving the very-dead Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the CEOs of a half-dozen Silicon Valley tech companies. The U.S. Justice Department is charging collusion masterminded by Jobs to prevent programmers from negotiating higher salaries and moving from company to company. Over 64,000 programmers are suing the companies for billions in damages to their salaries. Jobs evidently got the other CEOs to “collude” they would not poach other firms for programmers, thus holding down salaries throughout Silicon Valley’s many-billion-dollar tech companies.
A Jobs e-mail in evidence states to other CEOs: “If you hire a single one of these people that means war.” A lawyer for the programmers and engineers affected by the collusion says, “They were cheated by their bosses. These are the engineers and programmers building the hardware and software that are the lifeblood of the tech industry, but they were prevented from being able to freely negotiate what their skills are worth.” Apple is worth a few bucks and Google is now listed as the world’s most valuable company. Should be a fascinating case of psychotics versus nerds. Now you have other billionaire psychotics who think they deserve to rule the world. Billionaire Tom Perkins recently told the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco: “If you pay a million dollars in taxes, you should get a million votes.” Heck, billionaires have already achieved that through Supreme Court decisions.
The Climbing Of Mount Everest: An Allegory For The Inequality Of Our Times
Why people climb Mount Everest has always intrigued me. Some say, “Because it is there.” Some want to join an exclusive club that isn’t very exclusive anymore. Some people are weak in the area of accomplishment, so they live or die trying to achieve “something.” I’m beginning to think it’s an allegory of our times, a narrative that states a lot about the present human condition, risking death to achieve “something,” whatever that “something” is. Watching extreme sports such as sky diving, bungee jumping, avalanche snowboarding and skiing, extreme fighting, and body flying reinforces the idea that some people need to achieve the elusive “something.”
Climbing Himalayan mountains has become a major industry in the poor country of Nepal. It’s revealing to look at a picture of dozens of people, ranging from the blind to handicapped to the relative elderly, waiting in a line with their Sherpa guides near the top of Everest. Like concert-goers waiting to get an autograph from Lady Gaga, they wait to climb the last few yards to the summit, perhaps to realize a lifelong dream—or to brag to friends, showing the summit photo back home. It now takes between $30,000 and $100,000 to just start the regime of climbing Everest. Many thousands of dollars will follow the first thousands for equipment, guides, and $11,000 permits.
Getting A Deal On Bodies
Climbers will also have to pay a deposit fee of $4,000 to follow a new rule. Each climber must bring 17.2 pounds of rubbish down after they have reached the summit. Nepal has decided to attempt to clean up Everest because human waste and garbage has reached the disgusting stage. If the climbers don’t bring down 17.2 pounds, they forfeit the $4,000. Thousands have now climbed Everest, removing the “exclusive” label from the challenge. Between 1921 and 2013, 248 people have died on Everest. Some of the bodies are still on the mountain because they do not decompose in the extreme cold temps at base camps and above. A climber gets a good deal if he brings a body down.
With thousands climbing the mountains, the garbage is both unique and ordinary: discarded oxygen and cooking gas cylinders, human waste by the ton, ropes, tents, beer cans, tons of plastic, a crashed helicopter, and other items too numerous to mention. With so many climbers in the base camps and on the mountains, Nepal is also staffing base camps with soldiers and police to enforce laws and maintain order.
So climbing Everest is an allegory for me about inequality in economics, opportunity, and living conditions in the world. The One Percent with gold thrones hire the 99 Percent Sherpas with no toilets at all to carry their equipment up the mountain. When the summit is attained, then the 99 Percent bring the waste and garbage of the One Percent down the mountain. At least pee freezes in the ice and snow.