“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”
Image: Modern Toss, New Scientist
“Holy crap. Perhaps a U.S. Senator shouldn’t suggest that the Russian military is better than the American military that protected him from an insurrection he helped foment?”
“We can’t even imagine the thinking behind Gov. Abbott’s callous decision to strip the remaining federal unemployment insurance benefits out of the pockets of Texas working families. If he took the time or had any interest in understanding the challenges working people face, Gov. Abbott would see clearly that folks across Texas desperately need these funds as they try to navigate their way through the economic carnage of the pandemic.”
Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, reacting to Gov. Abbott’s decision to opt out of federal unemployment benefits extensions
“The Big Pharma fairy tale is one of groundbreaking R&D that justifies astronomical prices. But the pharma reality is that you spend most of your company’s money making money for yourself and your shareholders.”
During the U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing, Porter also declared, “You lie to patients when you charge them twice as much for an unimproved drug, and then you lie to policymakers when you tell us that R&D justifies those price increases.”
Gonzalez’s 2020 total compensation topped USD 24 million.
“You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said. If you believe that 22% is herd immunity, I believe you’re alone in that.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, to Sen. Rand Paul during a Senate hearing on COVID-19
“There’s absolutely no evidence that having a cold from a coronavirus in the past does anything to protect us. If it did, we wouldn’t have the epidemic we’re having right now.”
“I hope that you and the President don’t dislocate your shoulders patting yourselves on the back saying good job. We are 4% of the world’s population. We’re 22% of the world’s deaths. You bragged about the economy growing so fast – your words. Our unemployment is significantly higher than Germany’s; significantly higher than France’s; twice what Taiwan’s is; almost 3x what South Korea and Japan’s is; much higher than Australia; twice what Britain’s rate is; twice what New Zealand’s rate is. I mean I know you think the economy is doing well. But, if you’re talking to your wealthy friends on Wall Street…but things are pretty bad for most working Americans. They’re going to get worse unless you come up with a real package.”
Mnuchin had said, “I think we’ve made tremendous progress on testing.”
“When you have a president without shame, backed by a party without spine, amplified by a network without integrity, and by social networks that are marinated in conspiracy theories, behind whom are a lot of armed people — if you are not frightened by this, you are not paying attention.”
Friedman also stated the U.S. is on the verge of a “potential second civil war” if Trump’s insinuations aren’t taken seriously.
This COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from the average person – no matter where in the world they live. Here in the U.S. we’re trapped in a nightmarish scenario with a disoriented leader heralding recent gains in the stock market, while millions remain unemployed. I’m sure those struggling to pay utilities are thrilled to know Fortune 1000 companies are enjoying record stock prices.
One of the most severe – and underrated – effects is the impact the scourge has had on people’s psyches. Emotional, mental and physical health always become subconscious victims of any national crisis. People are just trying to survive.
Personally, I’m in a vortex of angst and frustration. My freelance writing enterprise – as meager as it was – has pretty much collapsed. I’m fortunate I have some money saved from previous work, but I know that won’t last forever. Or even much longer. After my mother’s death this past June, though, I began to feel sick. Friends and relatives thought I was in a state of grief, which I was for the most part. But I thought I’d contracted that dreaded novel coronavirus. I had many of the symptoms. I had hoped my seasonal allergies had started to hit me early. Then again, perhaps it was the stress of dealing with my mother’s health. One friend suggested I was suffering from a lack of iron and Vitamin D. Still, I finally reconciled, it may be all of the above. Fighting so many battles at once takes a toll on the body. And mind.
Because of the pandemic, health clubs were among those businesses shuttered across the nation in an effort to contain the spread. I last visited my gym in mid-May; shortly before the rehabilitation center where my mother had been staying shoved her out because her Medicare benefits had been exhausted. (That’s another story!)
But even after my gym reopened in June, I still haven’t visited. Again it was that awful sickness. I didn’t know what was wrong. I’ve taken to doing basic calisthenics and walking along an exercise trail behind my home in recent weeks in the middle of the day. I used to go running, but I don’t have the strength right now. Key words: right now. Once you take off a long time without doing any kind of exercise besides laundry and loading and unloading the dishwasher, it’s a tad bit difficult to get back to normal. But even that little bit still makes me feel good.
Seven years ago I wrote about my tendency to visit my local gym on Saturday nights, when hardly anyone was present. I commented that only lonely fools like me did such a thing. At the turn of the century, working out on a Saturday night was unmanageable. But the gym I had at the time was open 24 hours. It was a perfect time to jog on a treadmill and lift weights, I realized, with such a sparse crowd. No one was there to be “seen”. That quiet time – with various types of music blaring from the myriad speakers lingering overhead – allowed me to think of every aspect of my life.
I left that gym in 2017 to join another local gym that closed unexpectedly a year later. After a lengthy hiatus, I joined my current gym last year. This is an old-school gym with no fancy juice bars or chic workout gear. Loud rock and rap music bounces around the concrete walls. It boasts an outside area with non-traditional workout gear, like tractor tires and tree stumps. Men can go shirtless. People there sweat – they don’t perspire! It’s not for suburban soccer moms or GQ cover models. (No offense to soccer moms!) I feel more than comfortable in such an environment.
I know it’s tough to take one’s mental and physical health into consideration if you’re unemployed or underemployed. But I also know you don’t have to belong to any kind of health club to care for your own health. Mental health experts are concerned about the severity this pandemic is having on people’s well-being. Quarantines are literally driving people crazy. And to drink too much alcohol and/or consume illegal drugs. Or contemplate hurting themselves. A bad economy helps none of that. I can identify with all of that. I really do feel that kind of pain.
Just walking the other day, carrying a water bottle and letting the sun emblazon my bare torso, helped me mentally. It didn’t make everything magically disappear once I returned home. I knew it wouldn’t. But maintaining one’s health – as best as possible, even in the worst of times – is vital. It can’t be overemphasized.
“Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having except as a result of hard work.”
– Booker T. Washington
“Dare to be honest and fear no labour.”
– Robert Burns
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
– Maya Angelou
“No human masterpiece has been created without great labour.”
– Andre Gide
“If all the cars in the United States were placed end-to-end, it would probably be Labor Day weekend.”
– Doug Larson
“Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.”
– Joseph Joubert
“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”
– Samuel Gompers
“I believe that summer is our time, a time for the people, and no politician should be allowed to speak to us during the summer. They can start again after Labor Day.”
– Lewis Black
“Before the reward, there must be labor. You plant before harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.”
– Ralph Ransom
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
– Albert Einstein
“Work is no disgrace; the disgrace is idleness.”
– Greek Proverb
“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A man is not paid for having a head and hands, but for using them.”
– Elbert Hubbard
“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the lines between work and play.”
– Arnold J. Toynbee
“It is labor indeed that puts the difference on everything.”
– John Locke
“As we celebrate Labor Day, we honor the men and women who fought tirelessly for workers’ rights, which are so critical to our strong and successful labor force.”
– Elizabeth Esty
“I’ve heard of nothing coming from nothing, but I’ve never heard of absolutely nothing coming from hard work.”
– Uzo Aduba
“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?”
– Michelle Obama
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
– Vince Lombardi
“Though you can love what you do not master, you cannot master what you do not love.”
– Mokokoma Mokhonoana
“Work isn’t to make money; you work to justify life.”
– Marc Chagall
“Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and – above all – don’t let anyone limit your dreams.”
– Donovan Bailey
Discussions between congressional Democrats and Republicans over additional economic relief, including extending unemployment benefits, have broken down – again – as Americans continue struggling with rising personal debts and increased costs of living.
“No one should have to choose between staying home and really now being at higher risk with the situation with the coronavirus or having to decide to go to work sick.”
Texas alone has more than 10 million people age 18 and above involved in the workforce. About 40% of them lack paid sick leave; the majority of them female and/or non-White. Texas is notably more pro-business than pro-worker, and state officials have fought various municipalities that want to implement mandatory paid sick leave by filing lawsuits and proposing legislation to undermine those efforts.
Now, with the COVID-19 scourge in full crisis mode, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of emergency.
“It just isn’t going to work, and it’s very interesting that the man who invented this type of what I call a voodoo economic policy is Art Laffer, a California economist.” – George H.W. Bush, Carnegie Mellon University, April 10, 1980
I’m frightened for the United States, and it’s not just because of my disdain for our faux president, Donald Trump. I’m genuinely concerned about what could happen over the next few years.
In the above quote, George H.W. Bush was referring to the plans of fellow Republican and 1980 presidential candidate Ronald Reagan for revitalizing a stagnant U.S. economy. Then, when Reagan won in most of the primaries, his camp offered Bush the vice-presidential position, and the former Texas congressman shut up about economics. In 1980, the nation was in a bad financial situation. The costs of the Vietnam War, coupled with oil embargoes from OPEC nations, had finally taken their toll. Unemployment stood at nearly 10%; the prime interest rate was 21%; inflation was 14%; home mortgage rates were 17%; and the top marginal tax rate was 70%. In the second quarter of 1980, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 8%. By the end of the year, the overall GDP boasted about $3 trillion (in today’s dollars).
With the help of some Democrats in both houses of the U.S. Congress, Reagan was able to generate an agreement that slashed taxes down to 50% on wages, to 48% on corporate income, and to 20% on capital gains. These measures initially jumpstarted the economy. Average citizens had more expendable income, which they poured back into the economy by purchasing many so-called big ticket items, like vehicle and electronics. By 1990, the size of the U.S. economy had grown from $3 trillion to $6 trillion, with roughly 4 million new businesses and 20 million new jobs created. Although the national debt increased from $1 trillion to $4 trillion during the same period, overall revenues doubled.
Reagan’s economic policies were in line with conservative views on taxation: if we give the “investing class” (meaning, the most affluent) generous tax breaks, they will respond by expanding their businesses or starting new ones, which in turn, will create more products and / or services and more jobs. Along with reduced business regulations (“job killers” in conservative lingo), average citizens will have more income, which of course, they will pour back into the economy. Such growth then will expand the tax base; the additional revenue will replace any money lost to the initial tax cuts.
Ask any frustrated project manager and they will tell you that everything always looks great on paper. While Reagan disciples keep championing his financial moves, the reality is that “Reaganomics” didn’t work out as planned. One thing people forget is a little thing called the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which rolled back financial regulations that had been established by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to prevent further damage caused by the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. It’s interesting that Bush’s voodoo comment was made at Carnegie Mellon University. Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1900 as Carnegie Technical School, it merged with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in 1967 to become Carnegie Mellon. The Mellon Institute had been established in 1913 by brothers Andrew and Richard B. Mellon who, like Carnegie, were self-made businessmen and titans of early 20th century America. Andrew Mellon served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1921 – 1932, one of the longest tenures for this position. He created the “trickle-down” economic theory by declaring, “Give tax breaks to large corporations, so that money can trickle down to the general public, in the form of extra jobs.”
But Andrew Mellon is also known for a notoriously rotten hands-off policy with the Great Depression. The banks that failed had put themselves in such a precarious financial position, he believed, and thus, they were responsible for extricating themselves from it. It didn’t seem to matter that these bank failures took people’s money with them; therefore, amplifying the effects of the 1929 crash.
Still, President Reagan – like any good fiscal conservative – held onto these beliefs and eagerly signed the Garn-St. Germain bill. That reduced the number of regulations on financial institutions and allowed them to expand and invest more of their customers’ deposits in various ventures, particularly home mortgages. Again, that looks-great-on-paper ideology swung back around to bite everyone when the Savings & Loans Crisis erupted. Between 1986 and 1995, 1,043 out of the 3,234 savings and loan institutions in the U.S. failed; costing $160 billion overall, with taxpayers footing $132 billion of it. It was the worst series of bank collapses since the Great Depression. That led to the 1990-91 Recession, the longest and most wide-spread economic downturn since the late 1940s. I started working for a large bank in Dallas in April of 1990 and saw the S&L crisis unfold in real time.
Nonetheless, trickle-down economics saw a rebirth with George W. Bush, as his administration further deregulated the banking industry and also deregulated housing. Combined with the costs of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. economy almost completely collapsed at the end of 2008. The 2007-08 Recession was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment reached double digits for the first time since the start of the Reagan era, as millions of citizens lost their homes and their savings. Had it not been for such programs as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the FDIC, established by Roosevelt), we surely would have plunged into another depression.
Now, with Donald Trump in office, I fear we’re headed for the same morass. On December 22, 2017, Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act; the largest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years. Financial prognosticators have already forecast the act will raise the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars over the next 10 years. The law cuts individual taxes temporarily, but cuts corporate tax rates permanently. As suspected, the most affluent citizens will benefit greatly, as they experience a significant reduction in their taxes. The rest of us lowly peons may see a tax increase after those temporary provisions expire in 2025.
You know that classic definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results. It’s more like, well, if you keep doing stupid shit, stupid shit will keep happening!
Ignore Russia-gate for a moment and the fact Melania’s side of the First Bed is colder than a Chicago winter. This past week Trump visited the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This is where the most elite members of the business world meet (conspire) with leaders of developed nations to create economic policies and decide what’s best for us peons. Kind of like evangelical Christians often meet to decide what people should see and read. They’ve set themselves up as the righteous few; the ones who supposedly understand exactly what works and what doesn’t and are divinely compelled to bestow such knowledge upon the rest of us.
Trump ran his presidential campaign on the wave of anti-Washington sentiment; appealing to average citizens about reviving a once-lost “Great America” with a variety of clever ruses: ban Muslims, build a wall along the Mexican border, etc. So many people, of course, bought into it. Like Ronald Reagan, Trump was able to tap into that sensitive nerve of everyday angst; spitting out a slew of quaint buzz words to appeal to average folks. He had said he would never take part in a WEF convention. Yet, there he was; leading a parade of those self-righteous few into another kind of revitalization: the Gilded Age.
I doubt if most Trump voters even know what Davos means and how it could impact their lives. Understand, though, that Switzerland is a place where Hollywood celebrities often went for a retreat or a little vacation – code words for cosmetic surgery; long before Phyllis Diller made it openly acceptable. That’s essentially what Donald Trump did this past week. He flew to Davos to tell the world, “America first is not America alone.”
I’m frightened for the United States.
It’s been one month since the midterm elections, and a lot of people are still smarting from the results. But several folks saw this coming. As expected, the Republican Party has retained control of the House of Representatives and taken the Senate. But, few anticipated the GOP would garner such high numbers. Moreover, Republicans have attained most of the state governorships. Here in Texas, the GOP has won every major state-level office for the fifth consecutive election cycle. A Democrat hasn’t won a state-wide office since 1994, when Garry Mauro won reelection as State Treasurer. By the time the current crop of officeholders finish their respective terms, Democrats will have been shut out of state-level offices for two decades.
Texas Democrats had hoped this year would be theirs; that they would recapture at least one office, preferably the governorship, but at least maybe attorney general or state treasurer. But they didn’t. They lost – in the worst way. As usual, most voting-eligible Texans failed to turn up at the voting booths this year. In fact, Texas had the lowest rate of voter turnout than any state in the union – roughly 4.75 million people, or 28.5% of the vote-eligible population. In the Dallas – Fort Worth metropolitan area, some local officials blamed the damp, cold weather for the dismal response. Really? I recall an election in India several years ago where some people were being carried in on their deathbeds – literally! – to cast a ballot. Overall this year’s midterm produced the worst voter turnout since 1942. That particular year was understandable: the U.S. had just entered World War II, when many young men had already joined the fight overseas. Men were much more likely to vote than women back then, plus there were a slew of voter restriction laws – especially in the Southeast – to keep poor and non-White voters from casting ballots. But that was then; things have changed considerably in 70 years. I don’t just find the low voter response appalling. I find it disgusting. What happened?
After the 2007 – 2008 financial downturn – a period in which the U.S. came as close to a completed and total economic collapse – people felt their elected officials simply weren’t responding to their needs. President Obama and the Democrats inexplicably focused their energy on passing a healthcare bill and reforming the immigration system. The latter was labeled an attempt to appeal to Hispanics; once again, assuming Hispanics only care about immigration in the same way women only care about abortion and gays and lesbians only care about same-sex marriage. Sweeping assumptions like that are an insult and always dangerous. It’s bad enough, though, the Republican Party was determined from the moment Obama won the 2008 presidential elections to obstruct his agenda. Every conservative lout from Dick Cheney to Mitch McConnell stated publicly and emphatically they wanted to make Obama a “one-term president.” Fortunately, they failed. But they and the Democrats have failed miserably over just about everything, mainly the economy.
My gripe with Obama is his overt willingness to compromise. His first major capitulation to the Republicans came in December 2010, as the Bush-era tax cuts were due to expire. The GOP literally threatened to withhold votes on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, if tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations weren’t kept in place. Obama bowed to them; declaring openly that he didn’t want “the hostages” to be harmed. In December 2010, the Democrats still held majorities in both houses of Congress, and the President could have very well issued an executive order extending the benefits in question. But he backed down. And that’s when I began to lose respect for him – in the same way I’d long lost respect for most elected officials.
In 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized just how bad the Great Depression really was, he made the bold – and shocking – decision to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations (the same ones who benefited from hefty Republican-spawned tax breaks the previous decade) to stimulate the economy. He convinced these people that such hikes would benefit them, too, in that more Americans would be able to enter the workforce and pay their own taxes, plus have money left over to buy goods produced by a variety of industries. It made sense. The policy worked to some extent, but the 1929 collapse had been so bad, the positive effects weren’t immediate. Thus, economists and the politicians who think they know so much have been debating the logic of this move ever since.
The Democrats failed on another front regarding the economy. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder never indicted anyone in connection with the recent financial calamity. Anyone with at least half a brain knows it didn’t happen by chance. It wasn’t the inevitable result of market ups and downs. Major banking entities such as Citigroup and Fannie Mae were key players in the debacle. Both helped to create the massive housing bubble at the turn of the century, replete with outrageous features such as zero-down purchases and mortgage-backed securities. As the crisis worsened towards the end of 2008, Citigroup managed to convince the federal government to give it a life-saving multi-billion-dollar loan. But it also began laying off people at its various offices across the globe. Fannie Mae, along with Freddie Mac, also received a multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded bailout; this one in 2009. Yet that investment didn’t become profitable for taxpayers until this year. The average American worker hasn’t seen a lot of positive returns on their “investments” to save the “too-big-to-fail” banks. Those lounging in the economic ivory tower certainly have. For example, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, received a $16.2 million compensation package for 2011, despite a serious drop in corporate profits. The following year Blankfein urged Americans to consider a later retirement age.
“You can look at history of these things,” he told CBS News, “and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.”
How thoughtful. In February of 2009, two months after I earned my college degree, the engineering company where I worked held their annuals employee reviews. Due to budget crunches, my then-manager told me, they couldn’t afford significant salary increases. So, while my living expenses continued to rise, my salary essentially remained flat. I was laid off the following year.
People like Blankfein are part of the current problem of wealth inequality in America. That the Obama Administration neglected to prosecute the scoundrels responsible for all those business closings and job losses – again, this didn’t happen by accident – is reprehensible. If I rob a convenience store of a hundred bucks and get caught, I’d be sure to serve some serious prison time. Hedge-fund managers who manipulated the stock market seem immune to the most egregious of financial indiscretions.
Still, the economy has rebounded since Obama first took office. The unemployment rate, which reached a high of 9.9% in April 2010, now stands at 5.8%. GDP growth stood at negative 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 and is now at 3.9%. The national deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2009 and now is $564 billion. That all brings up yet another complaint. Why didn’t the Democrats highlight those facts? In his 2012 reelection bid, Obama proclaimed, “Bin Laden is dead, and GM is alive.”
It was simple, yet effective. For many of us, though, the economy really hasn’t recovered. Wages remain stagnant, and jobs are tenuous. We’ve become a contract society.
Moreover, I don’t really blame many people for not voting. I understand the frustration with the hollow words and obstinacy of some candidates. Wendy Davis, for example, began her campaign for Texas governor by attacking her opponent, Greg Abbott, instead of highlighting her own accomplishments. I think it was about 6 months into the campaign before she ran a more positive ad; one telling her life story. Voters really get put off by such animosity from the start. Criticizing the opposition is a dubious tactic. It’s almost as if the individual is hiding something nefarious about their own past. That’s essentially how George W. Bush won his two presidential terms: he had no redeeming qualities, so his campaign team attacked the other guys. And some voters fell for it.
I don’t know what the immediate future holds for this country. With Republicans now in control of the U.S. Congress, I foresee further adolescent bickering between people who are otherwise educated business professionals. I don’t envision economic improvements or tax relief for us regular folks. It’s depressing. That Mars One venture is looking more and more attractive.