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Fascist Capitalists Plundering The United States of America;
Robbing the Middle Class and the Working Class - Part - 1 -

Bill Moyer's Journal - June 13, 2008 - Transcript

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Here we go again. No sooner does Barack Obama challenge John McCain on extending George Bush's expensive tax cuts for people at the top than cries go up of "Class War! Class War!" Look at this essay posted on the website of capitalism's op-ed page in the WALL STREET JOURNAL. It accuses Obama of a "class-warfare tirade" for a speech he made critical of "tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs."

Now, Obama's economic policies should get a full critique. As should McCain's. But, please, can we put aside that old canard spouted by Wall Street apologists every time someone calls for greater equity between working people and the rich? Truth is, there's been a class war waged in America for thirty years now from the top down, and the rich have won.

Here's the latest dispatch from the front page - this story, in the news section of the WALL STREET JOURNAL, about how some corporate executives have finagled lush payouts to their heirs if they die in office:

If Eugene Isenberg dies while still heading up Nabors Industries, his estate would get an additional $288 million dollars - that's more than the company's first-quarter earnings.

But it's less than the $298 million Brian Roberts would get from Comcast if the Grim Reaper comes calling on his watch.

Pity poor Ray Irani: His golden coffin wouldn't be quite as glittering. Occidental Petroleum would top off his estate's tank with a measly $115 million dollars.

Class war? Well, you don't see those fellows or their heirs adding an extra cup of water to their soup, diluting their kids' milk, and giving them carbonated soda because it's cheaper than milk. You can bet your Gucci slippers they're not lining up on the main street of a small town to get bread they can't afford to buy because the rise in gasoline prices forces a choice between food and fuel. And you won't find them borrowing money from their bosses just to buy gas to get to work, or abandoning their cars on the side of the road and walking away when the tank runs out.

What's happening to American workers is not the result of natural forces alone. No, it's happened because corporate and political powers connived to keep wages down while shredding their workers' safety nets. For some time now the Great American Wealth Machine has been cranking out jackpots for the people at the top and pushing working people further down the ladder. The growing divide - that roaring inequality - is the subject of this broadcast.

Consider this: For the past thirty years the productivity of American workers has increased by 76 percent. But their real hourly wages have risen less than two percent. So the paradox is that people are working harder but still falling behind. Take this young man we recently met in California in our report from producer Peter Meryash and correspondent Rick Karr.

RICK KARR: We'd like you to meet Jaron Quetel.

JARON QUETEL: I thought we had resolved this.

RICK KARR: He's twenty-eight years old ... and he's working hard for a better life.

JARON QUETEL: Ahh, muchas gracias.

RICK KARR: Quetel works a full-time job as a clerk at UCLA, one of California's most prestigious universities.

JARON QUETEL: "Ok. Hasta Manana. Take it easy. "

RICK KARR: He thinks that if you apply yourself in America, you should be able to make it into the middle class. But he says he's having a hard time making that happen.

JARON QUETEL: Working the best job I've ever had in my whole life, I'm still, I mean, I am a breath away from drowning. I'm $20 away from being on the street. I am one car payment away from being re-poed. I'm barely surviving. I'm leading a substandard lifestyle because I make substandard wages.

RICK KARR: Quetel's job pays just under thirty thousand dollars a year. Which doesn't go a long way these days, especially if you're trying to support a young son....

JARON QUETEL: This is $187 Sprint bill for the telephone. $30 bill for the gas. Gotta have gas. This is $160 car insurance note that comes every month, along with a $400 car note that has to be paid every month. When I do my budget, my gas budget for a week is normally $30 bucks. I'm spending on average $45 to $63 dollars. If I'm on "E," it takes $63 to fill up my coupe. That's crazy.

RICK KARR: With gas around four dollars a gallon, he has to drive about twenty miles, round trip, every day to and from work and even farther to get to the trade school where he's studying to be a welder or to the odd jobs that he takes every now and then.

JARON QUETEL: If I wasn't trying, if I was a screw-up, if I was taking advantage of things, I couldn't complain, right? But what more can I do at this point?

JARON QUETEL AND PEOPLE MARCHING: "What Do We Want? Good Jobs! When Do We Want Them? Now!"

RICK KARR: What he could do, he decided, was draw attention to the tough choices and sacrifices that workers like him confront every day. Quetel's a member of a union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. So he joined members of his own and other unions to make their voices heard....


RICK KARR: In April, they marched through Los Angeles.

PEOPLE MARCHING: "We are the unions! The mighty, mighty union!"

RICK KARR: Twenty-eight miles, from Hollywood and Beverly Hills down to the docks of the port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. The march included union members from actors and writers to janitors and teamsters.

PEOPLE MARCHING: "Teamsters!" "Teamsters!"

RICK KARR: The march was called the Fight for Good Jobs. It was organized by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and its goal was to call attention to just how hard it is these days to stay in the middle class or to join it.


RICK KARR: Some three hundred fifty thousand union members in the LA area are bargaining for new contracts this year.

PEOPLE MARCHING: "We will win good contracts in 2008!"

RICK KARR: But the marchers called attention to issues beyond wages and benefits. They stopped to rally at the historic Wiltern Theater, for example, and drew a crowd of nearly a thousand to call for better working conditions for the city's janitors.

PEOPLE MARCHING: Si, se puede!

RICK KARR: At a community center near the University of Southern California, they rallied for better housing for working-class Angelenos.

PEOPLE MARCHING: Everybody in, nobody out! Everybody in, nobody out!

RICK KARR: At a hospital in South Los Angeles, they called for universal health care.

PEOPLE MARCHING: Si, se puede! Si, se puede! Si, se puede!

RICK KARR: --Near a center for day laborers, they called for better treatment for immigrant workers.

PEOPLE MARCHING: "Wal-Mart sucks! Wal-Mart sucks!"

RICK KARR: And at a Wal-Mart store, they rallied against the way the nation's largest private employer treats its employees:

PEOPLE MARCHING: "Don't shop at Wal-Mart! Don't shop at Wal-Mart!"

RICK KARR: Wal-Mart says that its average full-time employee earns ten dollars and eighty-three cents an hour! That works out to twenty two and a half thousand dollars a year or, just over a thousand dollars above the official poverty line for a family of four.

MAR--A ELENA DURAZO: "That's bad for our community, that's bad for our kids, that's bad for the United States of America to have a corporation that doesn't treat workers with respect!"

RICK KARR: Nationwide, since two thousand, workers' median wages have been stagnant or even fallen.

SHARON POLK MARCHING: "My people! You gotta a story. Tell the whole damn world, this is union territory! My people!"

RICK KARR: Take the example of marcher Sharon Polk, who works for American Airlines on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport guiding planes to gates and handling luggage in the hold. Her union, the Transport Workers, agreed to wage and benefit cuts after the terrorist attacks of two thousand one slammed the airline industry. Right now, she says, the workers are trying to get their pay and benefits back to where they were seven years ago.

SHARON POLK: We had to do a concession contract. So we the workers gave up $1.6 billion in concessions. Just to keep our jobs. And so now we're in contract negotiation and we're tryin' to get back what we lost.

JARON QUETEL: "Hey, hey, ho, ho. Union busting's got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho. Union busting's got to go!"

RICK KARR: Jaron Quetel's union is fighting for a new contract, too. It hasn't been making progress in its negotiations with the University of California, so recently, members voted over whelming to authorize a strike. Quetel says he works for one of California's top universities, but his wages are twenty five percent below what workers in similar jobs earn at community college. That means a lot of his colleagues have to work second and even third jobs.

JARON QUETEL: I just stopped working my second job at Best Buy so that I could, you know, fully commit to going to school. But, you know, I might have to opt out and go back to work again, you know, for the second job.

RICK KARR: A lot of workers need to hold more than one job to make ends meet. But that can take a toll on their families, according to marcher Tommy Munoz, who's a middle school teacher in a poor East Los Angeles neighborhood.

TOMMY MUNOZ: If the parent leaves at 3:00 in the afternoon just as the kid's getting home and doesn't come home until the morning so the kid barely sees 'em, I mean that takes a direct toll on the student.

RICK KARR: On the other hand, when parents can make ends meet with just one job.

TOMMY MUNOZ: And they're able to support their family without having to worry. Without having to work two, three jobs. They're able to come home at a decent time. And in return those kids are doing well in the class.

PEOPLE MARCHING: "We're fired up and we don't have to take it no more!"

RICK KARR: But those kinds of jobs are increasingly rare these days in Los Angeles and nationwide. Longshoreman David Arian says he has one of those good jobs which means he was able to provide a better life for his kids.

DAVID ARIAN: My daughter works on the docks and my son ended up going to college, went to Berkeley, graduated from Columbia Law School....

RICK KARR: Arian's spent his whole life near the waterfront, born and raised near the port of Los Angeles in the community of San Pedro.

DAVID ARIAN: We just entered San Pedro. It's about 75,000, maybe 80,000 people. It's a working class community where most of the people here own their homes living a good life.

RICK KARR: You talk with some pride about this town, the fact that people own their own homes. Does the union play a role in that?

DAVID ARIAN: Well, as a result of the union, everything we got is because of the union. We can afford to send our kids to college. We can afford, you know, to buy homes. We can afford all the things that are necessary in society, you know, to have a decent living.

I mean, that's the way it should be in this country for everybody. We're sort of part of the working class that has succeeded. And we, you know, we wanna be a beacon.

RICK KARR: Union jobs like Arian's have been disappearing for more than half a century: Organized labor's share of the workforce peaked in nineteen fifty-four at just over one in three workers. Last year, just one in eight working Americans was a union member.

PETER DREIER: After World War II, the US economy prospered. And that prosperity was widely shared. And so, Americans' standard of living went up. People moved to the suburbs. They could afford to buy their own home. The first wave of health insurance benefits kicked in. More Americans went to college. People could afford to take a vacation for the first time. People had a secure pension. And all of that has been dismantled over the last 20 or 25 years, for this generation of America's working families.

RICK KARR: Peter Dreier, who teaches labor history at occidental college in Los Angeles, says union members aren't the only ones who benefit from organized labor.

PETER DREIER: A strong labor movement is actually good for the economy. It may seem counterintuitive. But a strong labor movement is pro-business. Why is that? Because people that make additional wages, higher wages, because they are in a labor movement, they spend that money in the local economy. And that local money gets recycled several times.

RICK KARR: Unionized workers earn about twenty-seven percent more than non-union workers in the same jobs, according to a study conducted in Los Angeles last year. By spending those extra wages, union members created more than sixty thousand jobs in the L.A. area.

PETER DREIER: You know, the best social program is a good job. If people have a good job that's secure, where they don't think they're gonna lose their job, that's exported to China or Mexico, if people have universal health insurance, if people can afford to go to the doctor, people can afford to send their kids to college, that's what a strong economy is. That's what a strong middle class is about.

RICK KARR: That was the message when thousands of workers gathered at the end of the march on the San Pedro waterfront.

MAR--A ELENA DURAZO: Even a worker in the lowest-paying position has a right to get by and support a family with a good union job.

RICK KARR: Jaron Quetel hopes his union can help give him a leg up as he tries to climb into the middle class. He says, between the tightening economy and his stagnant wages, he feels like he's one calamity away from the kind of desperate decisions he saw people around him make when he was growing up in inner-city Los Angeles.

JARON QUETEL: Because if you don't have the means, if you don't have some type of stability in your life that you can build off of to take a step forward, you're gonna go back. You're gonna take a step back. And all that's behind you is the worst that society has to offer.

RICK KARR: Instead, Jaron Quetel hopes that he'll be able to live out his own version of the American dream.

JARON QUETEL: Very simply: Nice house, right? Two stories, so my kid can run up and down the stairs. Okay? I want a two car garage, my car and my wife's car, okay? Front yard, back yard. You know, I don't even need the picket fence. You know what I mean? Believe it. Believe it.

BILL MOYERS: Listening to those workers, I couldn't help but think about Henry Moyers, my father, who dropped out of school in the fourth grade because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. The Great Depression knocked him down and almost out, and he struggled on one pittance paying job after another, until finally, late in life, he had a crack at a union job. His last paycheck was the most he'd ever taken home in a week, $96 and change and he was proud of it. He said that job was the best he'd ever had.

I saw then how union struggled to preserve the middle class, and can make the difference between earning a living wage and being part of the working poor. Few have documented this struggle as thoroughly as columnist and author Holly Sklar, who's with me now. She co-authored RAISE THE FLOOR: WAGES AND POLICIES THAT WORK FOR ALL OF US, which looks closely at what it really takes to make ends meet in America.

Holly Sklar is also Director of Business for Shared Prosperity, an organization of business executives and investors, dedicated to our economy's long-term success. Holly Sklar, welcome to the JOURNAL.

HOLLY SKLAR: Wonderful to be here.

BILL MOYERS: What did you think watching those workers in California?

HOLLY SKLAR: I thought it was just a fascinating piece and a very moving piece, and also a really good introduction to the reality that people are living today. You know, the man is beginning, Jaron Quetel

BILL MOYERS: Jaron Quetel

HOLLY SKLAR: Yeah, $30,000 a year. You know, that's more than twice what the minimum is wage is scheduled to be in 2009. I mean, so he's a little bit under the average wage, but he's way over what other people are making today, and he can't make ends meet. And that's the reality for a growing portion of our workforce today.

BILL MOYERS: I read just the other day that a couple with two children has to work approximately three full-time minimum wage jobs just to make ends meet.

HOLLY SKLAR: That's right. So, people don't make ends meet. So what they do is, they're constantly trading off. You know, they're going to food banks to feed their children, you know. We've been living the American dream in reverse.


HOLLY SKLAR: In reverse.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

HOLLY SKLAR: Our wages now adjusting for inflation, average wages are lower than they were in the 1970s. Our minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s, and why is it? One of the things going on is that income and wealth inequality have gone back to the 1920s. We are back at levels that we saw right before the Great Depression.

BILL MOYERS: But, during this time, the economy's been growing. Why aren't workers sharing in the prosperity that they've helped create?

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, that's exactly the problem. It used to be that when productivity went up, wages went up. Worker--

BILL MOYERS: You work harder, you got more of the results.

HOLLY SKLAR: You got the fair day's pay for the fair day's work, you got more results. You shared in the rise and work of productivity. Now, almost all the rise and work of productivity is going not just to the upper class, but to the very top of the upper class. So, we have had a great redistribution of income and wealth in this country in the last three decades. The problem is that redistribution of wealth and income has been going up to the very top. And most people have even been treading water, or going behind. And often working for many, many longer hours to keep up with the living standards.

BILL MOYERS: Is it true that about 80 percent of our workforce in this country make their living from hourly wages?

HOLLY SKLAR: They do. And that's when we refer to average workers, that's usually what we mean. We mean people who are, you know, in production non-supervisory workers and they're, when I say average workers are making less, in real terms-in what they can buy, than they were able to in the 1970s. It's just shocking. And we are told often that we have to do this in order to make our country more competitive in the global economy. You know-

BILL MOYERS: We need to be leaner-

HOLLY SKLAR: Yeah, exactly-

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, leaner and meaner--

HOLLY SKLAR: Leaner and meaner, but we will all be better off in the long-run, we're gonna get more educated and so on. Well, here's the problem. We haven't been making our country more competitive. We've been actually driving it into the ground. Essentially, people at the top have essentially been you know, like they're corporate raiders, essentially raiding the whole country, milking it like a cash cow, is what's been going on and driving the economy into the ground. We have unprecedented debt to other countries.

You know, we have an infrastructure that was built by the tax dollars of prior generations, basically, that is now crumbling. We're not even paying to modernize for the global economy, we don't have a world class infrastructure anymore.

We have research and development that we're spending less on, proportionately. We have an education system that's lagging further and further behind. So the idea that we're getting more competitive for the global economy is ridiculous, that's a myth.

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't we in the streets? Why isn't there real indignation?

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, one of the things that happened, you know, if we go back to 1980, the 1980s, the two longest periods where we had without a minimum wage increase, have both taken place since 1980. And so, one of things that went on in the 1980s was, remember early on in the Reagan administration, PATCO, the air-traffic controllers union went on strike. And Reagan, essentially said, "You're fired, goodbye," broke the union. You know, and this was really quite unprecedented and set, a real green light to union busting.

Where it became normal to replace striking workers, not even just temporarily while they were out on strike, but basically saying your jobs are gone. And so one factor has been the decline of union strength relative to the workforce.

BILL MOYERS: There are plenty of studies which show, it wasn't just my father's anecdote, but there are plenty of studies that show that as unions increase their share of the economy, they bring other people who are not in unions up with them, they raise the wage standards for a lot of other people too, right?

HOLLY SKLAR: They do, absolutely. And the other factor is, that if people are afraid to lose their job, whether they're trying to unionize, or you're in a union, but you don't want to ask to much, or threaten companies threatening to outsource. But if you're in a situation which everybody's scared to lose their job in the-- before, and now you add on in recent years, terrified to lose their job because if they have health insurance through their job, and of course many workers don't, but those that do, terrified to lose their job. It's a much harder context in which to ask for higher wages.

BILL MOYERS: But, what does it say to you about politics, that instead of jobs to keep people out of poverty, we now have jobs that drive people into poverty. And the political system accepts that?

HOLLY SKLAR: Accepts it, that's exactly the problem. Now, the minimum wage sets the floor. When the government basically allows the minimum wage to become not just a poverty wage, but a desperately poor wage, it sends a big signal. Because if the minimum wage is down, then we, in quicksand, really, it's dragging down wages above the minimum as well.

The minimum wage in 1968, if you adjust it for inflation, was $9.88. Why does that matter? Well, today, if you're an entry-level worker at, you know, our two biggest employers, Wal-Mart and McDonalds, you're not making $9.88 to start, you're making well below that. If the minimum wage was still at $9.88 or above, you know, it should certainly be above that now, but it's not--

BILL MOYERS: What is it--



HOLLY SKLAR: Yeah, $5.85 an hour. In July, it's gonna go up to $6.55 an hour. You know, so it's still gonna be--

BILL MOYERS: So the people earning minimum wage are earning less than they would have 40 years ago?

HOLLY SKLAR: Oh, much less than they would have in terms of buying power.

BILL MOYERS: And you also say that they're actually subsidizing employers, stockholders, and consumers. Explain that.

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, they are, because, basically you are working, and you are creating value for the company, for the shareholder, whatever. And a much bigger portion of that is going to the very top of the corporation, say, the top five executives. To the owners, to the shareholders, and is not being in any way fairly shared with workers. And so, you know, you have situations where you have company executives have basically doubled their shares, company net revenues you know, in the last decade- doubled it.

What really happened is, so much is being absorbed up at the top. Just a level of extreme, almost pathological greed.

BILL MOYERS: We have the greatest spread of inequality, I believe, of any industrialized country in the world--

HOLLY SKLAR: We have the greatest spread of inequalities in industrialized countries, we have the highest rates of poverty and this idea that we're making ourselves more competitive for the world economy, in other industrialized countries, they're making themselves more competitive in part by, they've had raises at the bottom go up, not down, they've raised their level of math and science literacy, we've gone the other way. They've built out their infrastructure. They have much lower gap between CEOs at the top, and the workers at the bottom. They just don't tolerate it.

BILL MOYERS: Holly, what are the practical consequences of this word we hear banded about a lot, inequality? What does it mean actually to society?

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, it means a couple things. One is that in our very wealthy society, with so much wealth concentrated in so relatively few hands, we can have a situation where 39 other countries in the world, have lower child mortality rates than us. So, one of the consequences more children die here, preventable deaths. We have lower life expectancies than many other countries in the world.

A lot of Americans don't realize this. That's one of the consequences of inequality. That's one of the consequences of lack of universal health care, which relates to inequality.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think we're at some kind of breaking point? Because some people just say, "Well what's happening right now is the market adjusting itself, correcting itself."

HOLLY SKLAR: Well one of the reasons we're at a breaking point now, is one of the things that people did to cover up the real fall in real wages, was they maxed out their work hours, they maxed our their credit cards, and they maxed out their home equity loans.

And so we don't save, there's a level of debt that people were using, not to take a vacation, not to put their kids through college, although of course people go into debt for that. But, they were using it in many cases to just maintain a basic living standard. You know, make ends meet, going into debt to do that. Well, that's all maxed out now, the mortgage crisis cascading into the housing and the financial crisis has showed that that's just, you know, now running off a cliff basically. It's not sustainable, you can't do that.

So, the question is what are you gonna do as Americans wake up to the fact that really, we have this growing workforce of poverty wage workers, you can't even pretend to have the illusion that we're really a middle class country. So, the breaking point is also climate change, of course.

We have to green the economy in order to survive as a country, and in the world today. If you don't do it, it's a disaster for us and for the world. If you do do it, it's a breaking point in the sense that it's actually gonna be used to jumpstart the economy in a good way.

BILL MOYERS: You group includes business people, who are working to bring about some changes. Tell me what are some of the changes you and your colleagues think we could make happen?

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, we need a few things. One is, raise the minimum wage. Raise the floor. Set a green light in a different direction, and the green light is, raise wages, fair wages. The other is universal health care. Get to universal healthcare.


HOLLY SKLAR: Because one, because something like 18,000 people die from lack of health insurance every year. Two, it's really destroying a lot of small businesses in the sense that they know they want to give health care to their workers but they are in a situation where they just are paying. I mean, it's just become astronomical. It's like a giant shift from, you know, from one person and from one business to another.

BILL MOYERS: It's encouraging that your organization has a lot of small business people, and others working for what is your mission? What are you trying to do?

HOLLY SKLAR: The mission is to say that we can change direction. In other words, that what's really good for business, what's really good for business is also what's good for workers, and good for communities, and good for the country. That instead of this kind of low-road path we've been on, which is low wages for workers, low taxes, lower taxes for the wealthy, reckless deregulation, irresponsible disinvestment in our infrastructure and so on, instead of that we can go to a higher road, where we're shoring up the economy from below, and we're doing long-term sustainable developments, smart development, that we need for long-term success.

Now, this is not only what's good for us today, it's what's good for us in the future, and it's exactly what will make us more healthy and competitive in the economy in the long run.

BILL MOYERS: Holly Sklar, thank you very much for joining me.

HOLLY SKLAR: Thanks for having me.

Fascist Capitalists Plunder - Part - 2 -

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