Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “capitalism”

Time for Healthcare Insurers to Compete – Roger Ingalls

It’s that time of the year again for us micro-business owners. We need to renew medical insurance policies for our employees and just like clockwork the price goes up another 10%. The increases are illogical and completely counter to everything we’ve learned about capitalism.

When it comes to the insurance or financial industry, if any Conservative or Libertarian thinks the American Economic System is a free market, they’re either a fool or extremely gullible. What we have now is an Oligarchy; a few large insurance companies loosely coordinating policies and pricing. There is no longer true competition in this or any other financial industry.

The big healthcare insurers are publicly traded companies and, therefore, are managed by Wall Street. This means they must meet two critical criteria to stay within the good graces of for profit investors: 1) increase year over year revenue and 2) maintain or increase year over year profit margin. In today’s economic climate and in a real free market, this would be impossible for insurance companies. But yet, they continue to set profit records and growth. How is this possible? Simple…we don’t have a free market. Just to clarify, this has nothing to do with Obamacare; it’s deregulation of industry going back to the early 1980s and accelerated in the early 2000s.

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Let’s look at this more closely. Because of the Great Recession, many Americans are unable to continue buying their healthcare coverage so, today; fewer people actually have health insurance. This means insurance companies have fewer customers now than they did last year or even the year before. Fewer customers usually mean lower revenue but somehow they miraculously managed to increase year over year revenue and profit. To appease Wall Street, insurers just simple charged their customers more. Without a free market, we, as consumers, have no choice.

You may be thinking there are four or five big insurance companies so we do have a choice, right? No, we don’t. These few companies are unable to differentiate themselves because they are publicly traded and must cozy up to investor wishes by not straying from profit and growth path. This is why insurance prices from company to company don’t really vary. One may offer lower monthly premiums but the copays are higher and at the end of the day (or year), it all comes out to about the same.

There’s only one way to infuse a dose of competition into this industry and that is by allowing the public, of all ages, to buy into Medicare. This is truly a different type of offering to the consumer and would provide real competition for the insurance companies. Make these companies fight for customers by offering value.

Let’s bring back a free market economy, let’s have a little competition.

I Don’t Hate Capitalism – Roger Ingalls

As a former C-level executive of a famous semiconductor capital equipment enterprise, I’m often asked why I speak so negatively about the free market and public companies. In truth, I believe capitalism and investment into business by the public are fantastic ideas. However, I despise large corporations and Wall Street for collaborating to redefine the Constitution, undo worker’s rights, shift tax burdens and influence the judicial branch of government.

The foundation for big business collaboration was laid in the early 1970s and has grown into a monstrous institution over the past 40 years. Any conservative, professional or free-market fighter who does not believe large corporations and Wall Street have conspired to gain total financial control is not a true student of business.

All one has to do is read the Powell Memorandum of 1971 to realize that the seeds of collaboration were planted by a “soon to be” Supreme Court Justice (appointed during the Nixon administration) and then nurtured by his friend at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It’s a great document. The memo defines the problem, identifies the enemies and suggests solutions. Unfortunately, the defined enemies were the Middleclass and their advocates. The Powell solutions gained traction under the corporate-friendly Reagan Administration and the downward economic spiral of the Middleclass began.

I’m not against business and I’m not against a free market. I’m against corporations conspiring to create great wealth at the expense of the Middleclass. I’m against Wall Street’s destructive and increasing single-minded focus that says monetary profit is the only measure of corporate success.

A return to shared prosperity is needed to recreate a healthy economy. We need an economy based on tangible products and services and not on speculation and not on financial transactions.

We need a Powell-esk agenda for the Middleclass and champion to nurture it.

Business Dust Bowl – Norman Weekes

“On a scale from one to ten, how’s business been in the last year?” I asked.  I was a membership representative door to business door in San Mateo County for a small business lobby group. As part of the sales pitch I’d ask business owners about their business performance.

Based on the appearance of the business, the lack of employee’s or the silence in the business (no productivity) I would amend the question. “How’s business?” Awful, horrible, never seen anything like this in (pick one) 20, 30, 40 years of business was the frequent answer. More than I care to remember a business owner would tell me they were closing the doors, “retiring” or hoping to go back to work for “the man.”

Small business owners are the forgotten victims of the great recession. It’s easy to forget them. How many of us can relate to the backbone of our economy? How many of us have started or closed a business? How many of us have the inherent qualities (balls) to start a serious business? What’s a serious business? A business where the collateral backing the business is your house, property, cash, personal credit or other assets you’ve accumulated through honest hard work: a business where you haven’t taken a paycheck to keep the doors open. A business where you’ve laid off employees whose families attended the Christmas party months before. That’s serious business.

Two restaurants where I live in Castro Valley recently closed. One closure in particular caught many locals by surprise. JD’s was known for the best breakfast in town and has been family-owned since the seventies. “For lease” and “Available” signs dot the business landscape like tombstones marking the precise location of a deceased dream.  On a positive note people have come together to use social media to organize cash mobs but it will take more than feel good to stop this carnage.

Small business owners are the last heroes standing of capitalism. They take more risks, hire more people and contribute more to communities than big business ever will or care to. They are not people as defined by the Supreme Court, but people like you and me.

So the next time rich politicians debate or talk about the economy listen for what they’re doing for the people in the 99% who happen to own a business. Listen hard for the sound of silence.

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Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist. 

Creating Coalitions Pt. 1

An excellent article by Mark Bittman recently caught my attention.  While the Presidential elections and the circus that precedes it, captivates the media and offers us a measure of entertainment, the danger is that it is becoming more of a distraction.

 2011 was a pivotal year, whichever side of the fence you dwell. The Arab Spring, Tea Party and Occupy movements sent a clear message that the people have had enough and want change. Moreover, there is a wide understanding that coordinated, mass movements can effect change.

What is imperative now is to band together and organize so that the President and Congress take our claims seriously. The Republicans are tied up with their desperate attempts to find a candidate who is…well remotely Presidential.

The left, whether it be the green movement, the occupy movement, or the mainstay democratic party and trade union activists need to coordinate a clear rallying cry around those issues most critical tothe 99 percentand be ready in Mr. Bittman’s words “to garner enough political will and power to pressure the president and Congress to move resolutely on the issues that matter.”

This coalition will certainly include the environmental movement, the Occupy movement, the foreclosed homeowners movement, the indebted students movement, the food and health movement, or the unemployment movement, and I am sure there are others that I have missed.

Somehow, the plethora of movements worries me. Once you get individual leaders and proud movements there is inevitable competition for the microphone and the ear of the media. There needs to be a clear channel recognized by the President and government as a respected pulse of the people.

As Mr. Bittman says: “It doesn’t matter what you call the movements, or the people behind them. What matters is forcing the government to act in the interests of the sometimes-silent majority rather than its corporate paymasters.”

He also points to a recent Pew poll that found just about half of all young people now have a more positive view of “socialism” (whatever that is) than “capitalism” (we know what that is), as do nearly a third of all Americans.

How do we take this momentum and turn it into clear, measurable changes in policy? Mark Bittman lays out a course that I will present on Wednesday.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

What Do “Occupiers” Want?

The “Occupy” movement that was born with Occupy Wall Street on September 17, 2011 has forced us to face our worst fears – we (the people) now have to actually define what we want and how things should change.

This is no easy task. The temptation is to be exhaustively comprehensive like the U.S. Green Party. Here on this blog, Roger Ingalls posted 8 demands, but I can hardly imagine the leader of a protest calling to the crowd, “What do we want?” and the crowd responding, “Create a nationalized commercial bank to fund small businesses based on the prime lending rate plus overhead costs!” Roger later boiled it down (and I’m only making fun of him a little because he’s a very intelligent guy with a sense of humor) to: “Get the money out.”

While I agree with both of Roger’s posts, in one he was very specific, and in one he reduced it all to a catchy (if right on the money) slogan. In my opinion, what’s needed, for now, is sort of in between these two – a set of general policies that are clear.

As opposed to the avalanche of a platform that the Green Party has created, I myself would propose a set of policies that open up our government to voices of the people. This would differ from what the Green Party has done in that it would not say how things should be (with a few exceptions) but rather open up discussion to topics that are not allowed in our current, corporate-controlled media and government.

It’s so great that people like Roger Ingalls and members of the Green Party are working with such rigor. But I think the first step is one that is being accomplished by the Occupy movement right now – free speech.

We have not been allowed to question capitalism up until now. We have not been allowed to question its juggernautical march toward pure laissez-faire. Now, these discussions are taking place out in the open – even in Washington.

I have my own policy ideas too. But for now I want to think and listen. For the first time in my life I feel as though I can go downtown and talk about my ideas and hear those of other people. The Occupy movement IS a success, but we have to realize that we are still in phase 1. Let’s talk. Let’s share our ideas. Let’s lead by example and be tolerant and really listen to each other.

It is true that to accomplish real dialog on any kind of significant scale we will have to greatly reduce the influence of money on politics and on the media. And it is true that we will soon need much more than dialog. And in phase 2 we will need to lay out policies that represent the ideals of those of us that have the audacity to think that human-beings are more important than corporations. The specifics of how this would work are important. But let’s not jump phase 1 just because the pressure is on – from those who would have us fail.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Obama Must Lose – Part II – Tom Rossi

After last week’s post, Obama Must Lose… to a Progressive, some friends asked questions that made me realize that I need to make my strategy a little more clear.

As with any presidential election, the Republicans’ main goal is to create apathy and lethargy among Democratic voters so that they stay home and don’t bother to vote. If this happens, the Democrats will lose – and accomplish nothing in the process. This is why we need huge numbers of Progressive voters to hit the polls – and vote for Dennis Kucinich. And if Kucinich is not on the ballot, write in his name. That way, it will be clear just WHY Obama loses: he abandoned his base.

Now I truly believe that Barrack Obama is a very good man. But it’s clear that he has been seduced and coopted by the dominant economic paradigm of our time. The economic con-men that have created this domination can be very convincing. They talk in country-like aphorisms and say brilliant things like, “Don’t buy a pig in a polk.” Who could argue with that?

President Obama is an intelligent and educated man, but his education has been halted by the blaring sirens of economic darwinism. The same was true of Bill Clinton – by many arguments a more conservative president than Ronald Reagan.

There are three general outcomes possible in the 2012 presidential election. The first possibility is that Obama wins a second term, which will mean that our country continues along the scenic route toward hell. The second is that disenchanted Democrats stay home and Obama loses to a Republican – our journey toward hell is slightly accelerated, followed by another swing of the pendulum four years later to put us back on the scenic route.

The third possibility, the one I am advocating, is that Obama loses because Democrats and non-Democrat Progressives showed up at the polls and took the presidency away by voting for Kucinich. This way, when the pendulum swings back (and it will, as unemployment will be even worse and millions more will have been foreclosed upon), it will swing HARD.

Finally, Progressives will have a voice in national politics. Finally, the “flavors” of capitalism will be open for discussion. Capitalism should not be abandoned, but the flavor we have now tastes like liver – rotten liver.

So, if you can see my logic, don’t try to convince Obama supporters not to vote for him but convince the disenchanted – those who would stay home – that they need to get out and vote in 2012. They need to get out and make their vote count. Vote “People Before Profits!” Make our voices heard.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Cultural Death by Capitalism

Unbridled capitalism has turned the abundance of choice into a lack of variety.  When Henry Ford held the monopoly on ‘horseless buggies’ and as he adopted the assembly line in its infancy, he was quoted famously as saying that “Any customer can have any car painted any colour they want, as long as that colour is black!”  Thus began the way of life we know today.

Despite this beginning of mass production taking shape, we were still a country of independence and unique subcultures.  When I was a kid, my family would drive across the country to Wisconsin and back to California in our black Ford Galaxy 500.  To my parents, three younger sisters and me, every gas station, food joint and motel was unique.  Each state was different from the next.  Soda pops were regional, as were toppings on national classics like burgers and hot dogs.  Service stations reflected their locations with souvenirs, such as the Jackalope – native to Wyoming.  We knew when we crossed a state line simply by looking around us.

 

“As a child, we frequently drove from the Bay Area north to Grass Valleyalong Hwy 49.  Auburn was a treat to stop in because of the rich gold-mining history displayed all throughout the town.  My grandparents took us to a local café and candy shop.  I was in my early twenties when I took my first solo trip along that drive.  In just a few short years, the local SPD grocery chain had grown and now resembled every other chain store in the strip malls that now populated the once desolate highway.  Ruby’s Gifts had moved and was no longer the charming store it once had been.  The same fast-foods were now as readily available on every corner here as back home in suburbia.  The lusciously quiet tree-lined drive was overrun with the very places I longed to escape from.” *

Thanks to the likes of Sam Walton and James Cash Penney, big box businesses have taken over the same routes, highways and countrysides that are laid out before my wife and I as we make the long trek on a cross-country roadtrip back home to Wisconsin.  Where I once saw sloppy diners, roadside motels that had us peeking out the windows for Norman Bates, and “last chance stops” – now on our drive we see the bright, familiar lights of Walmart, Best Buy, fast food chains, Shells and Chevrons.  In the entire state of Nebraska the only pizza we could find was the cardboard served at Pizza Hut. 

We hear it all the time from Libertarians and Republicans:  “No control or restrictions for the rich and big businesses!  The free market gives us abundance and choice!”  The problem with this is it gives advantages to people and entities that already have the edge.  Big money wipes out unique products with cookie-cutter economies on an epic scale.  Everything is a tired blur of a handful of logos from coast to coast.  Few sights to see – even the truck stops have all been taken over by McDonald’s and Subway – gone are the all-night greasy spoons with grizzled old haulers hunched over their bowl of chili with a cracked, worn coffee cup glued to their dirty hands. 

“If half the employed population spent $50 at local, independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion dollars nationwide.  For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.  If you spend that same amount at a national chain, only $43 stays local.  Spend it online and none of it stays at home.” – The 3/50 Project.

While Americans have fought against socialism, we have in fact, through our capitalist greed, ended up with nothing more than the variety of a communist government store. 

 – Roger Ingalls

* featuring guest blogger Kymberlie Ingalls, www.WriterOfTheStorm.com

photes by jackalope.org and shadetreemechanic.com

Gas Prices Set Off Record Levels of Whining.

I’m about to puke from all the whining about gasoline prices and oil company “price gouging“.

America is apparently saying (in a most annoying voice) “Oh, mister oil company. Why, why are you giving us exactly what we asked for? Why are you giving us exactly what we voted for? Why?”

Well I’m here to tell all you whiners to shut up. You have voted, again and again, for “free enterprise”… for “market self regulation.” That one always makes me laugh through my tears. Self regulation… good God. “Listen, all you bank robbers out there, could you just agree not to rob any banks or that, if you do rob one, you won’t take too much money and won’t hurt anyone? Thanks. We really appreciate your being reasonable about this.”

So, here it is. This is the result of your (voters and people who COULD vote but don’t) choices – or lack of will to make a choice at all. You want the government “off our backs?” You want “smaller government?” You want so-called “freedom?” You got it! Congratulations. Here’s your prize: $4.00 per gallon OR MORE.

Meanwhile, the oil companies are raking in Billions with a capital B, and receiving billions more in subsidies from our tax dollars. That’s freedom. God bless America.

Oh, and nice head-fake, too. For a while, I was almost convinced that the American people had sprouted brains where their giant egos once sat. After the last big gas-price hike, people started buying much more efficient cars and parking or selling their giant Tonka toys. But then, when prices started to settle a little and people got used to them, the SUVs started to re-appear.

Every time I see one of these I want to say to the driver, “Hey! Thanks! Thanks for using up twice as much gas as you need to and driving up the price for everybody. I hope you have room in there for your massive ego.” It’s interesting that driving one of these giant cinder-blocks is supposed to be a sign of success and supposed to make people look up to you. If someone in our house takes really long showers, leaving little hot water for anyone else, we call that person a self-centered prick.

What’s most hilarious and depressing about this price situation is that now people are looking to the government, blaming Bush and now Obama, and asking why something isn’t done. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: What’s happening is NOT price gouging. The price is set by “free market” forces – the forces YOU have said (through your votes) that you trust to take care of everything. So now you want the government to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction?

Go drown yourselves in your tears… they’re cheaper than a gallon of gas.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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