Al Jazeera: “Why the ‘one percent’ in the US is worried,” by David A Love

The wealthy elite increasingly recognises that the socioeconomic status quo in the US is unsustainable.

The US also has the highest rate of income inequality in the West [File: AP/Mark Lennihan]
The US also has the highest rate of income inequality in the West 

Inequality in the United States has reached such levels lately that even members of the “one percent” have started worrying.

  • Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates hedge fund who is ranked 57th wealthiest person in the world by Forbes magazine, quipped in a recent interview that capitalism is denying “equal opportunity for the American dream”. He said that he was “a byproduct of capitalism when it also gave equal opportunity”, adding “I was very lucky to live the American dream by having the proper care and the proper public school education … A number of things have changed.”
  • Former Starbucks CEO and prospective presidential candidate Howard Schultz, who prefers to be called a “person of means” rather than a billionaire (ranked 617th by Forbes), recently observed that “the vast majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck” and declared that the next US president must urgently address inequality.
  • CEO of JP Morgan Chase Jamie Dimon (ranked 1,717th) also noted earlier this year that: “A big chunk of [Americans] have been left behind […] Forty percent of Americans make less than $15 an hour. Forty percent can’t afford a $400 bill, whether it’s medical or fixing their car. Fifteen percent of Americans make minimum wages, 70,000 die from opioids.”

Indeed, the growing impoverishment and despair that are plaguing our country are hard to miss. The US also has the highest rate of income inequality among Western nations, with the top one percent claiming 40 percent of US wealth in 2016, in contrast to a 25 to 30 percent share in the 1980s. According to the rather conservative estimates of the US Census Bureau, around 14 percent of the population or 45 million live in poverty. According to the UN, 8.5 million of them face extreme poverty and 5.3 million suffer in “Third World conditions of absolute poverty”.

But in reality, many more Americans struggle to secure a dignified life for themselves and their families. A damning report published by the UN in 2018 found that: “High child and youth poverty rates perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty very effectively, and ensure that the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion. The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class White workers.”

Perhaps parts of the American “one percent” are finally ready to admit that socioeconomic inequality has reached unprecedented levels and that the current status quo is unsustainable because just like South African billionaire Johann Rupert, the prospect of the poor masses rebelling is keeping them “awake at night“. They are now saying that capitalism “needs work” and are proposing various “fixes” – mainly “trickle-down philanthropy”. Some have gone as far as suggesting that social provision should be enhanced and that the wealthy should be taxed.

Yet all of them are quick to outright reject “socialist policies”. In a recent interview for NBC, Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wife of the second richest man in the world, echoed the thoughts of many of the super-rich, saying that: “What I know to be true is I would far rather live in a capitalistic society than a socialist society.”

But Gates is wrong. The current system in place in the US is not capitalism, but rather“socialism for the rich” which favours the “one percent” by granting it ever-increasing subsidies, exorbitant tax breaks, deregulation and executive bonuses. The rest of the population lives in an unfair system of inequality and segregation, struggling to make ends meet under severe austerity and erosion of labour rights. It is a system of “survival of the fittest”, which privileges some over the others based on race and gender.

Economic growth now only “uplifts” the rich, who are able to control the distribution of wealth by influencing the government and making sure it serves their interests and maintain their power. Through the US system of legalised corruption, the wealthy funnel billions of dollars in donations to election campaigns.

Unsurprisingly, the stop-gap fixes that people like Gates, Dimon, Schultz and Dalio are proposing are unlikely to work because they are designed to maintain the current system in place so they can continue to accumulate wealth unrestrained. The only viable solution that would prevent a major socioeconomic disaster in the US and subsequent social upheaval would be to overhaul the system.

Solutions to economic inequality and the excesses of American capitalism are necessary to save capitalism from itself, or better yet, to save people from capitalism.

There is an increasing number of dramatic proposals for economic justice that look promising. These include Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which envisions a national mobilisation to eliminate carbon emissions and transform the US economy, boosting economic growth and job creation, while seeking economic and racial justice for vulnerable communities. Ocasio-Cortez has also called for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on earnings above $10m.

Congresswoman Elizabeth Warren has a plan to wipe out $1.5 trillion in student loan debt by levying a surtax on the ultra-rich, while Congressman Bernie Sanders has put forward a proposal for universal healthcare. The idea of reparations for slavery, which could help alleviate some of the racial inequality in the country, is also gaining ground.

Although conservatives attack proposals promoting economic justice and equity as dangerous because they could lead to a totalitarian socialist system, such policies have long been a part of the US system. After all, the Green New Deal is named after the New Deal, which was introduced during the Great Depression to protect the poor, strengthen labour rights and impose strict regulation on the financial system.

At the same time, Americans are increasingly in favour of a major overhaul of the system, due to the problematic and corruptive nature of the current one. Existing and proposed government programmes of economic redistribution and equity are popular. Socialism is also gaining popularity, even surpassing capitalism among Democrats, particularly millennials. Such policies, which translate into more democratic ownership and control over the government and greater public accountability, most certainly frighten the wealthy for their effectiveness and political popularity.

If members of the “one percent” truly care about the widening wealth gap, they should not resist the implementation of these policies. An overhaul of the system might make them less wealthy, but ultimately will not be to their detriment. A profit can still be made if workers are paid dignified salaries, provided proper healthcare, and granted social and labour rights.

Indeed the choice of the “one percent” is reduced to either living in a more equal and just society or facing the wrath of angry impoverished masses.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 


25 from Maine, N.Y. charged in sweeping Downeast drug bust

The investigation involved more than 30 Maine drug agents, troopers, deputies, the FBI, Border Patrol, Secret Service, U.S. marshals and more.download (1).png

BANGOR, Maine — Fifteen people from Maine and 10 from New York were either arrested or charged this week as part of a major drug trafficking bust, involving a joint effort between 13 county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Maine U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency announced the arrests and charges Friday, which arose from an investigation into drugs being trafficked from New York City to Washington County and Hancock County in Maine.

Seven search warrants were executed Thursday, the U.S. attorney’s office said, resulting in the seizure of several firearms, including a sawed-off shotgun and large amounts of crack and fentanyl.

Arrested and charged Thursday by criminal complaint in federal court were the following 14 people with the charge or charges proceeding:

From Maine…

  • Vestin Drisko, 40, of Beals Island; and Renita Honea, 57, of Jonesport, with distributing crack and heroin, and maintaining a drug-involved premises
  • Chandra Hanscom, 44, of Cutler, with distributing heroin
  • Cody Look, 30, of Cutler, with possession with intent to distribute crack
  • Barry McCarthy, 43, of Columbia; and Ralph Sawtelle, 27, of Lubec, with maintaining a drug-involved premises
  • Robert McKenna, 48, of Indian Township, with distributing crack
  • William Smeal, 32, of Hancock, with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl

From New York…

  • Jordy Collado, 18, of New York, New York, with possession with intent to distribute crack
  • Miquel Angel Franco, 22, and Milo Danell Germany, 21, both of Bronx, New York, with possession with intent to distribute cocaine
  • Cinque Grasette, 42, of New York, New York, with distributing crack and heroin
  • Mujahedeen Hasan, 28, of Bronx, New York, with distributing crack
  • Julian Lloyd, 24, of Bronx, New York, with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl

Kevin Leroy Barner, 53, of Bronx, New York, was arrested Thursday after having been charged by indictment March 28 with possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack.

RELATED: 2 New Yorkers charged with arson, selling heroin in Richmond

Additionally, charged Friday by criminal complaint in federal court were the following three people with the charge or charges proceeding:

  • Christopher Cruz, 30, and Christopher Martinez, 29, both of Bronx, New York, with possession with intent to distribute crack
  • Timothy Cates, 40, of Cutler, Maine, with maintaining a drug-involved premises

If convicted, Barner faces between five and 40 years in prison and up to a $5,000,000 fine.

Drisko, Honea, Hanscom, Look, McKenna, Smeal, Collado, Franco, Germany, Grasette, Hasan, Lloyd, Cruz and Martinez face up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine for the drug trafficking charges.

Drisko, Honea, McCarthy, Sawtelle and Cates face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for the maintaining a drug-involved premises charges.

Part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Program, the investigation included: the MDEA; Maine State Police; FBI; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Border Patrol; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Marshals Service; and Maine Marine Patrol.

The MDEA separately announced Friday that it had charged seven people — six from Maine and one from New York — with drug trafficking, as part of the aforementioned investigation involving more than 30 MDEA agents:

From Maine…

  • Jessica Dana, 36, of Indian Township; and Rachel Dwyer, 46, of Lubec, with unlawful trafficking crack
  • Amber Douglas, 24, of Lubec, with unlawful trafficking heroin
  • Wayne Dube, 43, of Jonesport; William Gatcomb, 49, of Sullivan; and John Moholland, 50, of Princeton, with aggravated trafficking crack

From New York…

  • Craig Price, 29, of New York, New York, with unlawful trafficking heroin/crack

Cates, who was also charged in federal court, was charged separately by Maine drug agents with unlawful possession of fentanyl.

Maine: non-tourism businesses suffering from delay in H-2B (migrant worker) visa release

Smokey’s Greater Shows, which operates at fairs and festivals across Maine, may not be able to set up carnival-style rides at as many events this year due to staffing shortages.
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TOPSHAM, Maine — Maine’s non-tourism businesses are suffering from worker shortages and are blaming the delay in receiving H-2B visas.

The visas allow non-citizens to come to the United States to work on a temporary or seasonal basis.

“Normally we get our foreign laborers the H2 B visa program but […] there’s no guarantee when we’ll get our employees for the 2019 festival and fair season,” said Smokey’s Greater Shows owner Robby Driskill.

Driskill plans to host a job fair to try to attract people in Maine to work seasonally for his company touring Maine and New England. The event goes from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 1 at the Topsham Fairgrounds. They plan to hold another on May 8 from 1:30-3:30 and from 4:30-6:30 at the fairgrounds.

RELATED: Bar Harbor businesses struggle to find season employees

He said people are concerned they would be replaced or laid off for workers from away who could be paid less. Driskill said he would not do that.

“I would hire them first and if I fall short I would make the adjustment with the foreign labor but at no time will I hire the foreign labor and then lay off the American workers,” Driskill wrote in a text message. “That seems to be a concern when people talk to me about the job fair.”

“This season could be in jeopardy of not having enough people operate the rides,” Driskill wrote.

He said that means they may not have as many rides available.

This story will be updated

Swarthmore College fraternities face ban calls over ‘rape attic’ claims

Students hold a "sit-in" at Phi Psi fraternity, Swarthmore College (28 April)The protesters say fraternities have too much power on campus

Dozens of US students are on the fourth day of a “sit-in” protest at a college fraternity after the leak of meeting minutes which referred to buying date rape drugs and a “rape attic”.

Protesters are calling for the two fraternities at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, to be banned from campus.

Several students have also accused fraternity members of sexual assault.

In response, Swarthmore has suspended the activities of both organisations for the rest of the semester.

It is carrying out further investigations into Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, following the leak of documents detailing racist, misogynistic and homophobic language used at a Phi Psi meeting.

Fraternities are exclusive, mostly all-male student organisations. Some are based on areas of study, professions, academic credentials, or on specific religious or ethnical backgrounds. Others serve more of a social purpose.

Earlier this month, two student publications – The Phoenix and Voices – published what are alleged to be internal documents from the Phi Psi fraternity.

The redacted, 117-page documents include “meeting minutes” and details of pledging rituals from 2012-16. They feature offensive language and accounts of physical and sexual assaults, and bravado about buying “date rape” drugs.

Presentational white spaceThe “minutes” also allege that Delta Upsilon “have both a rape tunnel AND a rape attic (gotta choose one or the other)”.

Allegations of sexual assault, violence and harassment have also been shared by students on an anonymous Tumblr page named “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go.”

In response, student protesters on Saturday began occupying Phi Psi’s on-campus fraternity house and camping outside.

Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and the Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence, which arranged the protest, are calling on Swarthmore to terminate the leases of both fraternities and ban them from campus. Instead, they want the properties to be designated for “marginalised” students groups like women and ethnic minorities.

Fraternities are the only student groups able to lease property on campus. Many members also play in college sports teams, and alumni are often important donors for fundraising campaigns. Organiser Morgin Goldberg, 22, told the BBC that this had given fraternities “undue social power that they not only hold, but abuse”.

Ms Goldberg says she has witnessed harassment, racism and homophobia by members.

“If any other student group had this way of conduct, they would be off campus in 10 seconds,” she added.

Presentational white space

Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national umbrella group for fraternities, was suspended from Swarthmore in 2016 for violating its alcohol and drugs policy. It reopened for parties a year ago.

In a statement, the group said language used in the leaked documents “[was] not representative of who we are today.

“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived.”

Delta Upsilon fraternity told Philadelphia Magazine that it read the documents “with total revulsion” and said they “do not reflect the values” of the group.

In an email statement, a Swarthmore spokesperson said the college was “committed to fully investigating” any allegations, but conceded that “it is very difficult to investigate anonymous [ones].”

A task force was set up last year “to critically examine social life on campus, including [fraternity/sorority] life”. It will deliver its recommendations to college President Valerie Smith on 3 May.

“Isolating a few bad apples will not address the structure,” said Ms Goldberg.

“This is the start of the conversation, not the end of it, about social life at college and which students groups are represented and which are under the bus”.

Maine: Passenger Rail Transportation – Jacqui Voltaire

Something you might want to support.
Love,jacqui

Right now there are significant events in Maine passenger rail transportation. We want to make you aware of these and ask for your help and participation in making this a success for the economy and the environment:

1. Maine DOT just completed a study on the restoration of passenger rail service between Lewiston/Auburn and Portland
Please call the Governor office (207 287-3531) and tell her you support this service and want it restored immediately.
2. If you are from the Portland area and are worried about traffic congestion:
Please call the Portland city manager (207 874-8689) to support commuter rail service to the Portland Waterfront/Downtown
3. LD1093 is a bill that will fund passenger rail and is now in the state legislature:
Please contact (melikesrail@gmail.com) and we will work with you on what you can do to help.
4. We are looking for some help with the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, and the Sierra Club Maine. We are doing educational forums around the state and we would like you to join us. These will be happening spring and summer 2019.

Maine Rail Transit Coalition

Maine Sierra Club

Paul Weiss (weissp@me.com)
Tony Donovan (
melikesrail@gmail.com)
info@mainerailtransit.org

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Maine: Legislative Update from Senator Brownie Carson

Dear friends and constituents,

As you know, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Hydro-Quebec have proposed a transmission corridor through western Maine, which would bring electricity from Canada to Massachusetts. Proponents of the corridor argue that the project will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about those claims. Dear friends and constituents,

Whether the CMP transmission corridor would result in actual greenhouse gas emissions reductions is the issue here, and is a question that must be answered.

I’ve submitted a bill, LD 640, which would require a study of how the corridor will impact greenhouse gas emissions across New England, New York, and eastern Canada. Would the CMP corridor result in new greenhouse gas emissions reductions that would not happen otherwise, or would Hydro-Quebec simply divert electricity to Massachusetts ratepayers who will pay more for it, with no new actual carbon pollution reductions?

Neither Hydro-Quebec nor CMP has been willing to provide the details about what generation sources would deliver power to Massachusetts, whether those sources currently serve other customers, or what type of generation likely would back-fill any power that’s diverted to Massachusetts. This is essential information that LD 640 would provide.

To me, this feels like trying to buy a car from a dealer who won’t let me take a close look under the hood. LD 640 will provide the study we need to determine what’s under the hood. We need to understand if the climate benefits would be real, because the impacts of the CMP corridor on Maine’s environment and landscape would be massive, and very real. This bill is now being worked in the Environment Committee.

In the Education Committee on Wednesday, we passed three bills to end child hunger: LD 359701, and 549. These bills would encourage schools to provide breakfast to students after the start of the school day, make it easier for families to apply for free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch for their children, and help fund these programs in our schools. Children who are hungry have a harder time learning, and I’m hopeful that these proposals will give every young person the chance to succeed.

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee has been considering important bills to promote renewable energy. The committee passed and the Legislature enacted a bill to restore “net metering” for the benefit of residential solar energy system users. Another proposal would eliminate the cap on the number of utility customers who can invest in and benefit from a community solar farm. I strongly support energy policies that will restore Maine’s leadership on solar energy.

Bills to address other pressing issues, from health care to student loans, plastic pollution to teacher pay, are being considered in various legislative committees. My work in the Education and Environment Committees is challenging, engaging, and rewarding. I’ll do my best to keep you up to date.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can reach me at Brownie.Carson@legislature.maine.gov or (207) 287-1515. You can also follow me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/BrownieForMaine/. I look forward to serving you in the coming year.

Best regards,

Brownie Carson

P.S. Do you know of young people who would be interested in spending a day in the Maine Senate? The honorary page program gives students an opportunity to participate in the Senate and interact with legislators. Honorary pages see what it is like to work on the floor of the Senate and be part of a legislative session. Pages perform such duties as delivering messages to senators and distributing amendments and supplements in the chamber. Students from third grade through high school are invited to serve in the Senate Chamber as honorary pages when the Senate is in session. To learn more about the program, call me at (207) 287-1515. On a different note, we’re also looking for more Mainers to sing the National Anthem for legislative sessions. If you or someone you know is interested, call the Office of the Secretary of the Senate at (207) 287-1540, and let them know you’re calling at my invitation.

Vietnam War Veterans Day at the State House

On Friday, March 29, I joined fellow veterans in the Hall of Flags at the State House for Vietnam War Veterans Day. It was a meaningful ceremony, sponsored by the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services. There were remarks by Gov. Janet Mills and the Adjutant General Douglas Farnham, who I enjoyed speaking with after the ceremony. It was good to catch up with a number of old friends and discuss important legislation to address the needs of veterans across the state.

Brownie Carson | State Senator | (207) 287-1515 |  brownie.carson@legislature.maine.gov | www.mainesenate.org

Judge: Alex Acosta Broke Law in 2008 over Sex Abuser Jeffrey Epstein Plea Deal; #pizzagate

H3 alex acosta

Calls are growing for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign, after a federal judge ruled Thursday that Acosta broke the law in 2008, while working as a federal prosecutor, for his role in securing a controversial plea deal for billionaire serial sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein. The deal allowed Epstein to avoid a federal trial and possible life in prison, and effectively ended an FBI probe into the case, which alleged Epstein sexually abused and trafficked more than 30 underage girls. The plea deal was then sealed, in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. A recent Miami Herald investigation described the deal as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.” The deal also gave immunity to Epstein’s co-conspirators. Epstein was known to socialize with many prominent figures, including Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.

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(Still free, still  wealthy. #pizzagate)