The Rich get Richer: Income Inequality in the US

The United States has a wealth distribution problem. 80 percent of the wealth created in the United States in 2017 was created by the top 1 percent of earners. That’s insane. What’s even more insane is that top one percent of earners now have more wealth then the bottom 90 percent combined.

And yet as a country we seem to be okay with this fact. We seem to be so okay with this fact that we decided to exacerbate the problem by cutting the top tax brackets from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Even more we cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, in another move that primarily benefits the top earners.

That’s even though income disparity in the United States was already getting worse, not better, before the tax cuts. Top earners now make 90 percent more than they did in 1963, while the bottom only saw their pay increase by 10 percent over that same period. That’s an insane income disparity statistic that we shouldn’t be okay with.

Even worse, the bottom 10 percent of Americans were, on average, 1,000 dollars in debt in 2016. That’s compared to having no wealth, and no debt, in 1963. If you were in the middle (50th percentile) you doubled your wealth in that same span. But if you were in the top 10 percent it increased 500 percent, and those in the top 1 percent saw it increase by 700 percent.

What’s that all mean in one simple statistic? In 1963 the top earners had six times more wealth then the average American. In 2016 they had 12 times the wealth. It’s a problem that is getting worse not better.

We’ve been taught that if you keep your head down and work hard you can claw your way up to the top, but the truth of the matter is if you keep your head down and work hard, you’ll be lucky to claw your way out of debt. That’s what the statistics are showing us.

Income disparity like we have in the United States is crippling for an economy, it stagnates growth and increases the government’s indebtedness. Something needs to be done. We start by identifying who the one percent are.

To be in the top 1 percent of all earners your household must be bringing in a minimum of 481,000 dollars a year. And while that’s no number to sneeze at, it pales in comparison to the top .01 percent of earners, which bring in 35.1 million dollars a year, and the top .001 percent of earners which bring in 152 million dollars a year.

That’s compared to the average American household, those in the 50th percentile, that make just under 40,000 a year. I would imagine that most Americans tend to believe that more than half the households in the country make 40,000 a year, but that’s part of the problem.

We are led to believe that the wealth in our country is better distributed then it is. But the truth of the matter is, as time goes on income inequality keeps getting worse, and that’s a trend we just can’t afford to continue. We need to ensure that income inequality doesn’t get any worse then it is, or else we can rest assured that our economy, and our country, is going to suffer. dlocked0

The GOP tax scam: returns are finally waking Americans up

Photo Credit: Nancy Pelosi

As early tax filers find out how much they are getting refunded, or paying to the government, this tax season, they are finding out the cold hard truth of the GOP tax plan. The tax plan was never intended to benefit lower and middle-class Americans, it was a plan designed exclusively to benefit major corporations and the top 1%.

The fact that the plan was just a massive tax break for the top 1% and mega corporations only becomes more absurd when you consider that the country is 22 trillion dollars in debt. Still you would think that after all the GOP’s bluster, lower and middle-class citizens should see some kind of increase on their tax returns, right? Wrong. Tax returns are down for early filers, with filers getting 8.7 percent less then they received in 2018.

On top of that, 4.6 million people that got a refund last year, will not get one this year. Instead, most of them will end up paying the government money this filing season, even though they have never had to do that before.

The common argument that gets thrown in the face of those complaining about their lack of tax returns, or newly incurred indebtedness, is that their weekly or biweekly paychecks went up throughout the year, thus justifying the lower returns. However, this response reeks of the same sentiment behind the comments of then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan when he Tweeted this in the beginning of 2018:

But how dare you not put that extra $1.50 a week into your savings account because they are going to take $1.00 of it back when you file your taxes! How did you not realize that when the GOP was slamming it down your throat how lucky you were to have them in office since you were getting such a great tax break that you needed to save it all because your refund was going to get slashed?

It’s just more proof that this tax plan was never intended to help the lower or middle class, it was all about giving breaks to mega corporations and the super-rich, which is why a company like Amazon, that made over 11 billion dollars in 2018, still ended up getting a refund of over 100 million dollars. That’s all thanks to the GOP tax plan.

Meanwhile that Costco membership was paid for. Well no it wasn’t, as this tax filing season has shown. Don’t be fooled this tax plan wasn’t for you or me. It was for the top 1%, and this tax season is only making that more and more clear.

Trump, Kim, and the Hanoi-Summit: Why you should terrified

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

If past performance is the best indicator of future success, the United States and the world should be terrified of the upcoming Hanoi-Summit, where President Trump will meet with Kim Jong-un for the second time. The last time Trump met with Kim, Trump suspended military exercises between South Korea and the United States indefinitely, a major concession, and got almost nothing in return.

Fears are that Trump will agree to either troop reductions or ease sanctions, without significant steps towards denuclearization from North Korea. If Trump hadn’t agreed to suspend military exercises for nothing the last time the two leaders met, the fear would seem far-fetched, but with Trump it’s anyone’s guess on what he will do.

The summit which will take place from 27-28 February, has the potential to cause major divisions between the U.S. and its allies, but according to just about every expert, has no chance of denuclearizing the peninsula.

Meanwhile, by simply attending a second summit with a sitting U.S. president it gives Kim Jong-un a big political win back in North Korea, but if Trump is unable to accomplish anything critics in the United States will eat him alive. That puts Trump in a bad spot, Kim Jung-un needs nothing from this summit for it to be a success, while Trump needs major concessions.

More than likely Trump is going to stretch to get something out of this summit, which will result in major concessions from the United States, likely in the form of eased sanctions, for phantom returns. Maybe Kim Jong-un will agree to close some of their facilities that are close to being shut down anyways, or get rid of a few of their ballistic missiles, but their nuclear program will remain untouched.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un will have gotten a major concession, and moved one step closer to becoming a permanent nuclear power. All eyes will be on Vietnam next week and putting such a monumental negotiation on the shoulders of Donald Trump should have the world terrified.

Amazon and Taxes: Why you should be IRATE

If President Donald Trump was truly worried about working for the American people, the first thing he would have done after getting elected is to start to close some of the loopholes that major corporations use to avoid paying federal income taxes. It’s something that he has a lot of experience in, he’s run these mega-corporations, he’s used these loopholes, so he knows how to close them.

Instead, he expanded those loopholes resulting in corporations like Amazon being able to pay ZERO dollars in federal income taxes for all of 2017 and 2018. To make matters worse, it’s estimated that Amazon not only didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 2017, but it’s estimated they received a $137 million-dollar REFUND.

That’s right, when Amazon filed their taxes in 2017, the government wrote THEM a check, that’s even though they brought in 5.6 billion dollars in PROFIT in 2017, but that wasn’t enough, clearly, we needed to send them another 137 million dollars. I mean, what could Jeff Bezos do with a measly 5.6 billion dollars? The poor man’s company clearly deserved a refund.

Then after getting a tax refund in 2017, what did Donald Trump and the GOP do for mega corporations in their new tax plan? They cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent for 2018 and beyond. In the minds of President Trump and the GOP, companies like Amazon were paying too much, and they needed a break.

What was the result? Despite Amazon almost doubling its profits from 2017 to 2018, to a whopping 11.2 billion dollars, Amazon still got another check from the federal government, this time for 129 million dollars. If it wasn’t for all the federal income tax loopholes, that President Trump and the GOP allowed to stay in place, Amazon would have paid 6.146 billion dollars MORE then it did in taxes over the last two years.

If you’re still wondering why President Trump doesn’t want to reveal his tax returns, it’s because of loopholes like this. The mega rich don’t pay taxes, they find loophole after loophole so they can hoard their billions, then they turn around and claim that they are paying too much, to try and get further tax breaks.

It’s about time we say enough is enough, and demand that these major corporations pay their fair share, instead of giving them hundreds of millions of dollars every tax season.

The REAL impact of Trump’s “National Emergency”

President Donald Trump rocked the political world by declaring a “National Emergency” to try and power grab his way to 8 billion dollars to build his oft touted “border wall”, that is going to stop all illegal immigration, all illegal drug usage, and keep the dragons from storming Westeros and taking over King’s Landing. Well of course that’s not all true, I don’t think he’s claimed that it’s going to stop ALL illegal drug usage, just most of it.

Still the grab at money here still has consequences, even if the money never gets directed to the wall because of the court system. The money will be coming from a variety of programs from military construction projects to drug prevention programs, and while everything goes through the court system, those funds get frozen.

The Trump administration has said that they plan to use 3.6 billion dollars from the military construction budget, which currently sits at 10 billion dollars. But don’t worry according to Trump, he’s already talked to “the generals” about this and this is what he says they told him:

“I was speaking to a couple of them, they think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said what were you going to use it for, and I won’t go into details, but didn’t sound too important to me”

According to The Associated Press those funds are used for improving housing, roads, hospitals, and other facilities. It can be used to eliminate mold or other hazardous conditions in buildings at well. Those Congressional hearings by military families living in mold and rodent infested buildings this past week? President Trump repaid them by cutting funding towards the repair of some of those buildings, and then said it “didn’t sound too important to me”.

Another area that Trump could choose to cut from is towards a hospital being built at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. I guess that doesn’t sound to important to Trump either?

According to Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, “You are cutting a lot of projects the military was planning on, it means there are facilities, barracks, clinics and office buildings, you name it, they won’t be building”. To that Trump says it doesn’t “sound too important to me”.

These are projects designed to improve the quality of life for service members and their families, but I guess that just isn’t important in the eyes of President Trump.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a letter Friday to Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan requesting a detailed list of all the military construction projects that could be impacted by the move. This is something that needs to be done, so the American people can see just what the President is willing to sacrifice in order to get his wall.

Another area that Trump can pull from to fund his border wall, is from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program that has an annual budget of about $1 billion dollars. That money is currently used towards counter-drug activities, including towards detection and monitoring. As an example, school counter-drug programs run by the National Guard will probably be nixed.

Don’t worry, it’s not like we have a major drug problem in our country or anything, counter-drug programs for high schoolers seems like it’s something that should be cut for sure.

And while major Democrats are using this opportunity to say that they will be able to use this move in the future when a Democrat is in the White House, in order to address things like climate change (which is a far more real national emergency then the need for a border wall), it only further exacerbates the problem. Because it means that if this move is successful, the loss of funds will be more than a one-time thing. Those funds could be taken year after year, which will end up having a significant impact on the quality of life of our military community.

You Don’t Understand – A Message to Those who Haven’t Served

I’m not shy about the fact that I’ve served in the Air Force. In fact, I’m proud of it. It’s given me a perspective of the world that I would’ve never gotten if I hadn’t joined. That’s why every year I travel to visit the graves of the fallen on Memorial Day, that’s why I take the time out of my day to visit their graves throughout the year, not just on one day.

But I promise you this, what goes through my mind when I walk through those fields is different then what goes through your mind. When I look at those grave markers, inscribed with their name, their rank, and their unit, I see more than you do. The drab markers are picture-less, but when I look at each one, I see a face.

Of course, I don’t see the face of the fallen soldier, but when I see a Sergeant, I see myself. I see the face of my children and my wife and see them growing up without a father. When I see a Staff Sergeant, I see my old supervisor, who only has a few more years until retirement. When I see a Private, I see my old troop, an only child whose life could be cut far to short. I see the faces of their parents, their children, their brothers, their sisters, their wives, I see them all and how the world would be different without them.

I see a black hearse driving down the street at Dyess, both sides of the road lined with Airman, saluting their brother one last time as his parents take what’s left of him. I cried that day, and I cry as I walk through the fields where my brothers and sisters are buried.

I get angry when I see kids playing in these fields, but I keep my mouth shut because its not the place. I am barely worthy to walk on the grounds where these heroes are laid to rest, I’m not even close to worthy enough to cause a disturbance on their hallowed ground.

I’ve been to Normandy when I was stationed in Ramstein. I stood atop the cliff overlooking the ocean where those heroes landed. The water that ran red with their blood. I saw the kids playing on the beach but didn’t even deem myself worthy to set foot on the sand.

Trust me when I say if you never served you don’t understand. You can’t look at the marker and see the face that you served with, the reasons that they joined, the family that they have, and what they have to lose. You don’t look at that marker and see the full cost of war.

I was lucky to never have a brother or sister that I served with directly give their life. I was lucky to never have seen combat. I might’ve been in the Air Force, but I was a mechanic, not a desk jockey. I know those that saw combat, I know those that lost friends. I know what the cost of war is, and I know what another major war like those fought in Europe would cost. I can see the cost, I can feel it when I walk through those fields.

So, don’t tell me you understand, just like I’ll never tell a brother that lost a friend that I understand. I don’t see his face on each gravemarker. I don’t see his wife and kids, his brother or his sister. I don’t understand and neither do you.

There is NOTHING “radical” about AOC’s Green New Deal

Photo Credit: Senate Democrats

While much has been made about the “Green New Deal” proposed by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the biggest controversies seem to be coming from what’s not in the resolution. Critics have clung to text from Ocasio-Cortez’s website, which included, economic security for those “unwilling to work”. And while that was posted on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, it isn’t what was in the resolution presented to Congress.

It’s the same when people bring up “airplanes being made obsolete” or “reducing carbon issues from beef”. None of that is in the resolution, it’s all from text on Ocasio-Cortez’s website on how SHE wants to lower carbon emissions. But even if you don’t agree with her specific plan you should still agree with her resolution. Because everyone should be able to agree on the fact that carbon emissions NEED to be reduced and that we NEED to reach net-zero global emissions.

The resolution is intentionally kept vague and doesn’t provide any specifics so that people with differing views on how to reduce carbon emissions can agree to the resolution. Additionally, it provides common sense information on what Congress should be looking into doing to ensure a world that is suitable for future generations.

The resolution starts out by pointing out facts about manmade climate change. These facts are backed up by the scientific community, and every expert in their respective fields. Only Trump and some of his far-right conspiracy theorist supporters are still in the camp of denying the human impact on climate change.

After presenting some eye-popping statistics, including:

(3) global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond preindustrialized levels will cause—

(A) mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change;

(B) more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100;

(C) wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019;

(D) a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth;

(E) more than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and

(F) a risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States;

 it goes onto some more generic initiatives, that not too many people can disagree with, even if we disagree on how to get there. Still there are some provisions in the resolution that have provided some minor controversies. For example,  

(E) upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;

The biggest controversy of this statement is “all existing buildings”, but that doesn’t have to be a major upgrade to make a significant impact. Many climate experts recommend a simple step like switching to LED bulbs or treating your windows to let in less light which can reduce heating and cooling costs.

If every building in the country was upgraded with these simple steps it would make a significant difference. And while we can argue about how to implement such a plan, what shouldn’t be argued is that it’s a worthy goal.

Another section that might be deemed “controversial”

(O) providing all people of the United States with—

(i) high-quality health care;

Once again this is a prime example of an action that shouldn’t be controversial, even if we disagree on how to get there. The problem is right now the GOP has no idea how to get there, so agreeing to the fact that every American deserves “high-quality health care” can be a hard sell.

But it shouldn’t be, nothing in this resolution is radical or ground-breaking information, it’s the reality of the world we live in, and it’s time for Congress to wake up to that fact. Only once we get everyone on board, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, can we start making progress to reducing carbon emissions in the United States and do our part to ensure a world that the younger generation and their family can live in.

Click this link for the full text of the resolution presented to Congress.

Envisioning a 4-party system

In 2016 the United States missed an opportunity. On the left we had a Democratic Socialist (Bernie Sanders) squaring off against a “conventional” Democrat (Hillary Clinton), and on the right we had a populist (Donald Trump), squaring off against a wide field of “traditional” Republicans. It was the perfect chance to highlight the vast disparities between the differing sects inside each political party and do something about it.

Even with an extreme partisan like Clinton, and an extreme partisan like Cruz, there were still two more candidates that held even more radical views competing for their party’s nomination.

But imagine if both parties were split in two, with each party’s most extreme members forming their own political parties based off those beliefs. A populist party for the extreme Republicans and a Democratic Socialist party for the extreme Democrats.

Before looking at the presidential election implications of doing this, lets look at the implications to Congress. The country is divided into extreme partisan areas, areas that elect people like Alexandria Oscar-Cortez and Bernie Sanders on the left, and people like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump on the right.

In an ideal situation each party would have roughly the same number of people (please don’t misunderstand me, there would still be elections which invariably means that there would be fluctuations to this and that’s a good thing). But as long as no one single party gained complete control for too long it’d be fine.

That would mean that depending on the makeup of the government at the time, each “moderate” party would need to work with their respective extreme parties to get their more extreme measures passed. Additionally, to get more moderate legislation passed they would need to work with the other moderate party. A system like this rewards cooperation, since no party can do anything all by themselves, as compared to our current winner take all system that results in politicians hurting their careers when they work with the opposing party. Having more parties in Congress is a clear advantage for the country because the amount of cooperation it encourages.

For the presidential election things get far trickier in a multiparty system though, you don’t want an elected president who only got 30 percent of the popular vote. Ideally, in a multiparty system you don’t have a direct election for the President, you have a parliamentary system like those used throughout Europe. I would propose a system where the elected Congress votes for and chooses the President.

This would once again encourage cooperation between the parties and ensure that the President isn’t extremely partisan, since no one party can elect the President by themselves. The other option for a Presidential system with multiple parties is a runoff election type scenario. However, I think this would still lead to a heavily partisan President, blunting much of the impact of a less partisan Congress.

To be clear, I don’t think a system like the one described above will ever be implemented in the United States, it would require a complete overhaul of our government right down to the Constitution. Still, I said it before and I believe it even more now, we need more than two parties in our government.

The way the United States works right now is we go from one extreme to the other, swinging back and forth between the two, and as a result we drown out the moderates. It’s an extremely volatile system that leaves a large portion of the population feeling disconnected from the government and encourages large partisan divides and big divisions throughout the country.

When America was founded, our government system was the best in the world, and while the country is still great (despite what certain politicians would have you believe about needing to make “our country great again”), our political system is deeply flawed and far from the best in the world. It’s about time we started looking at ways to fix it.

Defense spending and tax increases: what we need to do to balance the budget

moneyIn case you’ve missed it, the United States is going broke. The current national debt is at 22 trillion dollars, with a national deficit of nearly 1 trillion dollars. With our overall revenue at just under 3.5 trillion dollars a year, it would take us 7 years with the government spending ZERO dollars to just break even.

The bad news, the GOP, who historically has declared themselves the “fiscally conservative party”, has reneged on their promises and shown their true colors over their last two years in office. They have shown that they are anything but fiscally conservative, ballooning the deficit, which was down to 500 billion dollars during the last year of the Obama presidency.

Still with the debt so high what must we do to begin to claw our way out? We need to do the same thing every family does when they realize they are spending too much, decrease spending (budget cuts), increase revenue (taxes), or in this case both.

When you look at the budget, the biggest discretionary spending cost in the United States by far is defense spending (i.e the military). In 2018, the military had a budget of just under 700 billion dollars. That is by far the most any country spends in the world, even when compared to that countries GDP.

What the United States needs to do is start relying on it’s allies more when it comes to national defense and pushing its global interests. Currently the United States GDP is roughly equal to all its NATO allies combined, however, when it comes to defense spending the United States is accountable for close to 72 percent of all NATO defense spending. That means while we are currently spending 700 billion dollars a year, we should be spending only 480 billion dollars a year.  

The United States cannot afford to do this. We need to reign in our defense spending and force our allies to pay their fair share, if not they will gladly let us run our country into bankruptcy as they enjoy the benefits of our free defense services. The only way that they will ever start to pay their share is if we stop covering for them. We need to cut our defense spending, and then the next time Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, or a multitude of other bad actors misbehave, look to NATO to respond.  

Second, we need to increase taxes. It’s the only way to even come close to balancing the budget. While every politician in Washington knows this, the GOP was willing to mortgage the future of the country for a short-term political gain when they passed a massive tax cut in 2017. To make matters worse those tax cuts disproportionately benefited corporations and the super-rich, the same groups that are being taxed at historically low rates, when our country has a larger national debt than ever.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent tax on income over 10 million dollars a year, would bring in an additional 72 billion dollars annually (7% of our national deficit, or 14% if we reverted back to Obama era spending) and that’s just by returning the top marginal tax rate to a figure that it was always at before the 1980’s. There are ways to get our spending in check without catastrophic consequences if we selectively target our tax rates like most European countries do, but we need to do it now before it’s too late.

This country needs to elect politicians that are truly fiscally conservative, those that recognize defense spending needs to come down and taxes need to go up. Something that those in red refuse to admit.

Medicare for all and Tricare

single payer
Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman

Medicare-for-all is shaping up to be a major focus for Democrats looking to replace President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Still when Kamala Harris came out in favor of eliminating private insurance companies – a staple in most single payer systems, Democrats recoiled.

That begs the question do Democrats really know what they are pushing for when they are demanding a single payer system? The closest resemblance to a single payer system in the United States is Tricare, the health insurance military members are given (For those that want to be technical, Tricare Prime).

And as such I think that it’s the perfect way to evaluate how a single payer system would work in the United States. Yes, I understand the funding will be different, but most Americans DO realize that going to a single payer system would result in an increase in taxes – and by how much is still up for a bit of debate, although countries in Europe provide a good estimate for this.

Now as a military member I had Tricare for several years, so I know a few things about how it works from a user’s perspective.

The cost to the user has to be the biggest advantage in a single payer system – now I understand that we will all be “paying” for it in a national single payer system through taxes, but the difference is it doesn’t matter if you get cancer, you won’t get a bill. It’s stress free, you no longer have to worry about if your health or a freak accident is going to bankrupt you. You don’t have to worry about copays or deductibles, you just know your covered.

My kids have a variety of (small) medical issues, their therapies never cost me a dime on Tricare. When I talked to their doctors about what they needed I never had to ask about the cost, instead I got to ask about what the best treatment options were without having to worry about if I could afford it.

Furthermore, with Tricare preexisting conditions don’t matter. Now to get on Tricare as a military member preexisting conditions are a thing, they won’t let you join the military if you have a multitude of different health concerns, thus excluding you from Tricare. However, for spouses or kids, it doesn’t matter what they have – as soon as they marry the service member everything is 100% covered. With a single payer system, you don’t have to marry a military member to get this kind of full coverage if you have a preexisting condition. Simply by being an American you would have healthcare.

Still the biggest drawback on a single payer system is your ability to choose your doctor. In Tricare you are assigned a primary care doctor who handles all your day to day care and refers you out to other specialists if you need them. While that works great if you have a good primary care doctor, if he isn’t any good it can lead to a lot of headaches. While you can change your primary care doctor it can be a pain.

In a civilian single payer system there would have to be a system to address who you can see, if not everyone is going to want to see the top doctor every time their nose runs. I think a system where you have a choice between 3 primary care doctors – think a family health doctor, that can refer you out to specialists is the way to go. Of course, being limited on who you can see is a definite drawback of the system.

With this information and my personal experience on Tricare I am a strong activist for a single payer system. It is insane that in the United States there are people that lose every dime in their savings account or go into massive debt because they fall and break their arm. It’s even crazier that there are people with cancer that can’t get treatment because they can’t afford it. They are sentenced to die because they can’t afford the care that could save their life. People deserve better, and in America we have the option to give them better, it’s beyond time we did so.