The American Dream
We are the richest country in the world, yet because of all our political corruption, we now have much worse income inequality than any of the next 15 richest countries. The top 1% of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 90%.
The superrich can hide their money in tax havens, take vacations on mega-yachts, fly between multiple mansions all over the world, and indulge in $475,000 bottles of House of Creed Bespoke perfume.
Meanwhile, the net worth of the bottom 50% (half) of Americans is zero. We have a record high of 2.5 million homeless children—1 in every 30. In the last 10 years, the Federal Reserve estimates up to 14 million homes have been foreclosed, with about 13 million households thrown out.
The problem isn’t the hard-working cardiac and orthopedic surgeons, lawyers, upper middle managers, and small businessmen who have done particularly well, the richest 1% with a net worth of $1 to $3 million. It’s really not even the top .1%, with an average annual income of $27 million.
In fact, a survey found 64% of millionaires are concerned about inequality, with half of those extremely concerned, and most millionaires support increasing the minimum wage and increasing taxes on the rich.
Many millionaires even support raising taxes on the top income earners. They realize our inequality is sabotaging consumer spending and our economy. A group called the Patriotic Millionaires agrees we should tax millionaires at least the same as their secretaries.
Another survey found 80% of CEOs, business owners, and executives who are members of the Chamber of Commerce also support raising the minimum wage, an overwhelming majority, with only 8% of these people opposed.
The real problem is certain people in the top .01%, with a net worth of $100 million or more, and especially people like the top 25 hedge fund managers who each make nearly a billion dollars a year.
It’s people like Charles and David Koch, worth a combined $100 billion, the billionaire DeVos family of Amway, hedge fund billionaires, and the Walmart heirs (Waltons) worth $150 billion.
Most of these people own massive industries or work in banking, financial services, or related businesses like real estate development or government contracting.
These people can often borrow money for almost nothing, keep production overseas, hide their profits in overseas tax havens, and manipulate our laws with campaign donations and lobbying to benefit themselves.
Many of them are corporate executives who cycle in a revolving door to regulatory bodies and high-level government positions, like Dick Cheney.
These superrich people have spent decades lobbying ferociously and using think tanks and armies of public relations specialists to shape opinions and manipulate our tax, bank, trade, and bankruptcy laws to hoard most of the money for themselves, taking from the poor to give more to the rich.
They are led by greedy billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who own various mansions worth from $8 milion to $37 million each. Each one of the brothers earns about $1.8 million per hour.
They host a secretive, twice-a-year summit retreat of approximately 450 right-wing millionaires and billionaires to strategize and collect money to influence the media and elections.
Many of these people own massive oil, gas, or coal businesses with networks of refineries and pipelines. Invitations only go to those who donate $100,000 or more.
The Koch brothers and many of their friends break the law on a massive scale and hate government. For example, one is Sheldon Adelson, linked to Asian mafias in his casinos in China and investigated for bribing foreign governments.
In 2013, Sheldon Adelson paid a $47 million settlement to end an investigation into money laundering for the vicious Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel.
Another is Richard Devos, the founder of Amway, who pleaded guilty to defrauding the Canadian government. Prosecutors describe Wall Street financier Steven Cohen’s business as a “magnet of market cheaters.” Phillip Anschutz, founder of Quest Communications, illegally tried to avoid paying low capital gains taxes.
Vulture capitalist Paul Singer buys up the debt of countries and cities facing massive debts, then uses his government connections to force them to cut money for health, education, and pensions to pay him back.
Wall Street financier Stephen Schwartzman compared raising the tax on carried interest to Naziism. Richard Strong did so many illegal trades, he got banned for life from the financial industry. Another is a high-frequency stock trader investigated by the IRS for not paying billions in taxes.
The Koch brothers own a huge variety of businesses including oil, natural gas, pipelines, fracking, coal, fertilizers, chemicals, minerals, lumber, plywood, drywall, Stainmaster carpets, plaster, Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft toilet paper, iphone parts, etc.
They have paid $400 million in fines for a long, stunning history of chemical waste releases and disasters and their refusal to pay for business safety measures have led to emergencies and deaths.
For example, in the 1990s, the Justice Department filed lawsuits against Koch Industries for over 300 oil spills releasing an estimated 3 million gallons of oil into lakes and rivers.
In 1999, a jury found Koch Industries guilty of negligence and malice in the deaths of two Texas teenagers in an explosion from a leaky underground butane pipeline. Koch Industries had fixed only 80 of 538 corrosion defects in these butane pipes in order to save money.
In 2001, the Justice Department filed a 97-count indictment against Koch Industries for covering up the discharge of 91 tons of cancer-causing benzene from a refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Environmental Protection Agency found Koch Industries was the largest producer of toxic waste in the US. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s named Koch Industries one of the top three air, water, and climate polluters.
Even after acting recklessly or refusing to pay for safety precautions, these superrich people expect taxpayers to pay for the resulting emergencies and to clean up whatever environmental damage occurs.
Very often, they hide the contamination until officials confront them and declare bankruptcy to escape the costs. The Koch brothers don’t want to pay taxes and expect us taxpayers to pay for the resulting disabilities, deaths, and environmental catastrophes.
Of course, they want to cut or eliminate regulations on corporations, especially environmental regulations on pollution safeguarding our food, water, and air.
The Koch brothers helped craft a law making fracking chemicals almost entirely exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, so they can sell these dangerous chemical cocktails for injection deep into our aquifers.
Koch Industries has lobbied to fight classifying formaldehyde a carcinogen, despite plenty of research showing it does cause cancer. The US Senate found the Koch brothers stole $31 million worth of oil from of a Native American reservation.
The Koch brothers and their superrich friends have spent billions of dollars over the last 40 years to create 89 nonprofit organizations, with 43 right wing think tanks that met weekly to influence politicians and the media to support laws that suck profits into the pockets of the wealthy.
They’ve spent massive amounts of money on radio, TV, and digital ads for and against candidates during political campaigns, including presidential campaigns. They also pay for direct mail, opposition research, grassroots organizing, and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The Koch brothers’ network has trained and funded conservative media personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham.
They’ve funded programs in hundreds of colleges, universities, and high schools, sometimes requiring an influence over hires.
They push economic textbooks teaching sweatshop labor isn’t bad, hands-off regulation in China is better than regulation in the US, lower pay for women isn’t discrimination, and minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor.
By setting their organizations and 5 family foundations as nonprofits, the Koch brothers get tax donations for their own efforts influencing American media and lobbying.
They have spent more than $324 million on think tanks, policy papers, and media “experts” to argue we must cut government spending, Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment compensation, fight health care for all, and foreclose on working people’s homes.
The Koch brothers have spent so much on “experts” arguing Social Security is a failed, broke program that many Americans believe this, even though simply taxing the rich their fair share would easily fund it for many decades into the future.
They want to lower taxes on corporations and the superrich, while increasing taxes on the middle class and working poor. They want to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and other social services, privatizing them so they can make money on them.
The Koch brothers want to completely eliminate unions, the minimum wage, and all consumer, homeowner, and worker protections from big businesses and banks.
They’ve spent at least $23.3 million on think tanks publishing over 4,000 articles, studies, and media projects saying we should abolish the minimum wage or never increase it.
They also want to crush or eliminate unemployment compensation, student loans, the US Post Office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), solar energy, renewable energy, electric cars, and national and state parks.
They fight against all campaign finance limitations, public financing of campaigns, and transparency in campaign funding so they can continue to buy politicians with hidden money. They managed to weaken campaign finance laws in over twenty states.
They push for voter ID laws that most often eliminate disabled, low-income, elderly, African American, and student voters.
The Koch brothers and their superrich allies use American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to actually write our laws.
ALEC is a secretive organization of giant corporations that tells the IRS it is an educational charity, but fights for the interests of the superrich, writing model legislation that member politicians then introduce all over the country as their own bills.
The membership includes roughly 20% of all state legislators. This is corporate lobbying and strategizing in fancy, rich resorts with free drinks, cigars, and meals, with no lobbying disclosure requirements, under the pretense and tax deductions of an educational charity for social welfare.
ALEC bills fight to repeal minimum wage laws, fight increases in the minimum wage, weaken worker’s rights to sue corporations for injuries or deaths, forbid local governments from limiting pesticide use, protect polluting corporations from civil and criminal liability, block climate change agreements, and attack solar and renewable energy policies.
For example, Koch Industries, Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil, all ALEC members, pushed and passed bills that exempt their companies from having to disclose some of the chemicals they inject underground.
ALEC has written the “right to work laws” passed by 25 states that have destroyed the negotiating power of unions. Studies show households in these states make an average of $6,568 less each year than those in other states, resulting in 14.8% more poverty and higher infant mortality rates.
Workers in these states are less likely to have health insurance and when they do, they have worse benefits. They’re also 54.4% more likely to die on the job than are workers in other states. And their schools spend 31.3% less per child on elementary and secondary education than states without right to work laws.
ALEC, Koch Industries, and energy companies like ExxonMobil have pushed “Electricity Freedom” laws to weaken and sabotage solar power, even in many of our sunniest states, like Florida, Arizona, and Nevada.
These laws eliminate goals for solar power use, hike solar rates, forbid anyone but power companies to buy or sell electricity, outlaw popular and affordable solar leasing programs, or add punishing fees for using solar power.
In some states, ALEC has succeeded in privatizing schools. ALEC has gotten bills limiting corporate liability for products that kill or injure people introduced or passed more than 20 times.
They also don’t want our government to provide education. Instead, they want corporations to profit by taking over and running the schools.
When David Koch ran for vice president in 1980 against Ronald Reagan, thinking Reagan was far too liberal, even conservatives denounced Koch as a crazy radical. William F. Buckey called his views anarcho-totalitarianism.
But by carefully spending billions over the last 40 years on advocacy groups, fake scientific papers, think tanks, training “expert” researchers to frequently testify in Congress, and training media personalities to spout their views, they’ve succeeded in shifting American politics far, far to the right.
Because of their efforts, hatred of taxes and big government is widespread now. They’ve also made it surprisingly normal to talk about abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Internal Revenue Service.
The Koch brothers’ network funded organizing and training the Tea Party and the Republican “scorched earth” strategy of constant obstruction and gridlock of anything and everything Obama proposed.
They’ve bankrolled the election of like-minded Republican governors and state and local legislators. They spent plenty of money to win Republican majorities in thirty state legislatures. And they’ve groomed, funded, and placed like-minded extremists in federal agencies.
The Koch brothers and their friends funded many front groups to oppose the Affordable Care Act and to show up to early town hall meetings about the Act to sabotage them and inject fears of death squads, etc.
These people don’t even care if people die. The Affordable Care Act gave an additional 20 million Americans health insurance, saving many, many lives.
But 19 Republican governors allied with the Koch brothers refused tens of millions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid. For example, Texas rejected $9.58 million by not participating.
Refusing this money cost these 19 states an extra $1 billion for treating uninsured people in hospitals and results in about 19,000 more deaths each year, while their citizens pay federal taxes that support the Affordable Care Act.
The Koch coalition funded the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014. They’ve also spent plenty of money gerrymandering safe congressional districts for Republicans.
These people are also willing to sabotage our economy just to hurt Democrats. After Obama’s election, their puppets in Congress filibustered over 500 important bills.
They wouldn’t even fund improving our infrastructure, which could produce millions of jobs and greatly help our economy. And they wouldn’t end tax breaks for offshoring jobs that devastate our economy.
They wouldn’t let Obama invest in community colleges, give tax credits to families for child care, cut payroll taxes, make retirement plans portable, retrain workers for new jobs, or relocate workers when their jobs went overseas.
The Koch brothers and their superrich friends planned to spend almost $900 million to influence the 2016 elections and install politicians to their liking. This is more than twice what the Republican National Committee spent in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Seeing the mood of voters, they’ve given up on the presidential election. Instead, they plan to spend less but to focus all their money on helping elect right-wing governors, candidates for Congress, state legislators, and even school board members.
Their goal is to keep and build Republican majorities so they can continue to obstruct all legislation and keep any Democratic president ineffective.
The Koch brothers have 1200 full-time workers in 38 states, 3 and ½ times as many employees as the Republican National Committee. Their organization has long had the power of a secret full-size national political party.
These superrich people and their Republican allies have sabotaged our courts by greatly slowing down the confirmation of federal judges. Now they refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominee.
The Koch network funded several dozen nonprofit groups focused on climate denial and supporting dirty energy from fossil fuels. One of them is Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group with directors in 34 states that refuses to back political candidates unless they sign a pledge never to do anything about climate change. Over 155 members of Congress have signed that pledge.
The Koch network funded long, successful campaigns to maintain and increase lucrative tax loopholes for the rich. They spent plenty of money constantly suing to loosen campaign finance rules, until they finally succeeded with the terrible Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Koch Industries helped shape the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which exempted many risky financial products from regulation. Of course, these derivatives later crashed our economy.
The Koch brothers spend plenty of money trading derivatives, credit default swaps, and volatility swaps, acting as a hedge fund. They even bet on oil futures while they manipulate the market by holding oil offshore in supertankers.
When our economy tanked in 2008, they held 20 million barrels of oil off the market in order to make more money on oil futures, costing each American up to 40 cents per gallon of gas.
They’ve funded the Federalist Society, a group that promotes a very conservative view of the Constitution. Their members Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia have used their positions on the Supreme Court to roll back civil rights, consumer rights, reproductive choice, labor and employment laws, and environmental protections.
They’ve spent plenty of money to destroy unions, both through legislation and in court. They funded the passage of new laws in 14 states restricting union bargaining for public employees. And they’re behind a new case against unions that has gone all the way to the Supreme court.
Their data on voters and initiatives to promote conservatives voting are now likely better than that of the Republican party.
Now they’re trying to insert sentences into important, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that would make it harder to prosecute bank fraud, deadly pollution, or contaminated food or medicines that kill many people.
Charles and David Koch spent 20 years suing their other 2 brothers to inherit more of their father’s wealth. They even blackmailed their gay brother in order to win more of the family fortune, hiring private investigators to go through their two brothers’ garbage.
They’ve also hired private investigators against other enemies, including journalists, prosecutors, and even the FBI while they were being investigated.
These are the kinds of people who created a rigged economy to benefit themselves and are dictating our policies and our lives, no matter the health, economic, or environmental consequences.
They created the rigged economy by demonizing the government and the poor. They funded organizations and political parties promoting limited government and complaining about “burdensome” government regulation.
They talked of a culture of dependency—the entitlement society, lazy people with a poor work ethic, supposedly created by liberals with government handouts.
Every time anyone suggested laws to help poor people lift themselves up by raising taxes on the superrich and corporations, media talking heads angrily railed about socialism, communism, Marxist ideas, class war, and the horrors of redistribution from people who worked hard for all they’ve got to the lazy poor.
The truth, however, as billionaire investor Warren Buffet admitted, is there has long been a class war—not the poor against the rich, but the rich against both the middle class and the poor—and the rich won a massive victory.
In recent decades, our country has seen the most massive shift in wealth and income ever experienced by any developed nation—a shift from the poor and middle class to the rich.
The clever arguments of the superrich worked remarkably well, based on old racist myths about generations of lazy welfare queens popping out babies to live on the government dole forever and drug addicted inner-city people living it up watching TV all day and buying steaks and lobster with their food stamps.
Tax cuts sounded great to regular working Americans, especially to racists who didn’t want their tax dollars going to “those” people.
While the superrich made cuts to unemployment, food stamps, and other social services, most people never realized the vast majority of the tax breaks were going to the superrich.
The old welfare system did need reform—although 70% of the original recipients were children, too many people got it and it didn’t work hard enough to help people get jobs and succeed on their own.
But the truth is forcing people to sink or swim is nowhere near as effective as it seemed after welfare reform in the late 1990s, when the strong economy, a boost to the minimum wage, and expanded earned-income tax credits brought great gains to the poor.
Research shows welfare improves children’s nutrition, success in school later, income in adulthood, and even the health and lifespan of children as they age.
The vast majority of people use welfare (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF) only temporarily and work when they can. The average number of children in families on welfare is 1.8, the same as in other families.
Half of welfare families only have one child. Children on welfare are no more likely to go on welfare when they grow up than are other children.
Cash welfare systems exist in 171 countries around the world. Studies show people receiving cash assistance typically don’t waste it on things like alcohol and tobacco.
Welfare can slightly discourage work, but this effect is not large. Rules that gradually decrease benefits as people start working help a great deal.
Our government requires most adults on welfare to work or receive job training, with most states enforcing 30 hours a week for single parents and more for two-parent families. It also limits most adults to 24 months consecutive welfare and 60 months total.
Despite what some people think, it’s not easy to get disability here, disability fraud is not rampant, and disability claims are not skyrocketing.
In fact, people on disability are three to six times more likely to die than people in their age group not on disability.
Poverty is rising as welfare helps less of the poor. In 1996, 68% of families in poverty got welfare. In 2013, only 26% of them did. Poverty exploded and the number of children living in extreme poverty doubled.
There are far more white people than black people in poverty. In fact, over half (54%) of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 face poverty for at least a year of their lives.
No state provides enough welfare to bring a family of 3 up to even half the poverty level. Most state’s benefits leave families at less than 30% of the poverty level.
Although most welfare families have no housing subsidies, no state provides enough welfare for a family of 3 to just pay rent and utilities for a modest 2-bedroom apartment. In 29 states and Washington DC, welfare covers less than half that amount.
In over half the states, less than 20% of poor children live in a household receiving welfare. In 12 states, less than 10% of poor children do. In Wyoming, just 4% do.
In Georgia, a state with many Republican legislators working with ALEC, one woman living in a shelter applying for welfare was told if she applied, the state would take her children away. Others applying reported having to go to 8 orientations or to 60 job searches a week.
Bill Clinton’s welfare reform law establishing TANF encouraged states to experiment by providing the funds as a block grant. This turned over budgeting authority from the federal government to the states.
Now only about 1/4th of federal TANF money is spent on basic assistance to poor families. Many states divert TANF funds to fill holes in state budgets or to fund things like job training, child care, prekindergarten programs, or college scholarships.
Many needy families have disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental illness, abusive relationships, dependent children with physical or behavioral problems, dependent disabled elderly parents, and/or serious problems with housing, transportation, or childcare.
These people need more help and our safety net for helping families overcome problems and succeed has weakened. Now these families often get no cash assistance and suffer real hardships.
Sadly, children are the true victims of our harsh policies. We need more social services, not less. Research shows people on food stamps run out of money and eat between 10 and 25% less calories toward the end of the month.
Studies have found problems increase when people run low on food stamps and food. Hospitals admit 27% more low-income people for low blood sugar toward the end of the month. Children in school have lower test scores and more disciplinary problems toward the end of the month.
Our government used to be far better at helping our people when they were down and out, when all they needed was some basic support in order to lift themselves up again and prosper.
The real problem is corporations and the superrich avoiding taxes and refusing to offer most of their workers living wages, and health and retirement benefits. It’s also our bloated, wasteful military spending, which just creates more suffering and terrorism.
Welfare (TANF) is less than 1% of our budget. Welfare for the rich and corporations, however, has constantly grown and costs us taxpayers far, far more than welfare for poor people.
Many well-off people think people on welfare are often just cheating the government and begrudge them help to get back on their feet. These same people happily take government handouts all the time and don’t even realize it.
For example, we’ve seen that our government spends far more on the homes and education of the wealthy and middle class than on the homes and education of the poor.
As noted in our petition for free college, we have far more government assistance for college education for rich people than poor people. With reform, we could easily give everyone free college with no change in government spending.
Our taxes also subsidize everyone on employer-sponsored health insurance with $295 billion each year. We also subsidize retirement savings through investments like 401Ks, with $150 billion a year.
The rich and upper middle class need to understand their comfortable lives depend on government assistance. They shouldn’t begrudge people who are down and out getting a helping hand from the government.
Now corporations are the real welfare queens. Of course, this includes all the companies we have seen refusing to pay a living wage, forcing their employees to rely on taxpayer-funded government assistance.
Clearly, the superrich, corporations, and the military are getting far more welfare from the government than poor people. This corruption has shrunk our middle class and pushed more people into poverty.