Notwithstanding Donald Trump's 4-Pinocchio claim that low-end wages are on the rise, there is an ample body of evidence that wealth inequality has reached levels not seen since the onset of the Great Depression. Those who study the issue often compare the financial holdings of the privileged few to those of the many.
A 2017 study, for example, revealed that just three individuals – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos – had, at that point, held as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the American population --- some 160 million people. It's a wealth gap that continues to grow exponentially.
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is the Ebenezer Scrooge-like poster child for obscene wealth disparity. Last year, Bezos agreed to pay Amazon employees $15 per hour wages, but only after sustained pressure from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who introduced the StopBezosAct.
At $15 per hour, a full time, 40 hour per week Amazon employee would earn $31,200 per year, before taxes. How generous! According to Business Insider, every 60 seconds, Bezos earns $149,353. That's more than four (4) full-time Amazon employees collectively earn in a year. Bezos' per minute earnings are $56,000 higher than the $93,170 in annual earnings an individual would have to make in order to be placed within the top 10%.
In the minds of most people, $215 million looks like an enormous sum of money, and it is. Business Insider reports that Bezos rakes in $215 million per day, every day, and more than $6.5 billion per year. Amazon, which reported $11.2 billion in earnings last year, did not pay one dime in federal taxes.
While these numbers are essential to understanding our gaping inequality problem, they really don't do much by way of exposing what life is like for those at the bottom end of the scale, to wit: the homeless, who, to many, are simply "invisible" .
In a recently released report (see below) titled, "Paradise Lost", Eric Johnson of Seattle ABC News affiliate, KOMO, takes an in depth look at what wealth disparity has wrought for those at the very bottom --- the 59,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Not mentioned by Johnson is that 11% of those struggling to survive without a roof over their heads are U.S. military veterans. The numbers of individuals in L.A. who are slipping into the homeless abyss, according to Johnson, are increasing --- by 16% over the previous year.
Johnson focused on what he described as "the worst man-made disaster in the United States" --- "53 square blocks of suffering and mental illness and drugs on a level that is hard to fathom." For the homeless of L.A., conditions may be even worse than those experienced during the Great Depression. They face what Johnson described as "the long-ignored cousin of addiction and homelessness: disease."
"We have not seen conditions for humans like this since medieval times. Period. And that's a fact," Dr. Drew Pinsky told Johnson. He is, literally, correct...
It was another very difficult day, with a fire hose of incoming news, figuring out what most needs to be covered, underscored, highlighted and given context to on today's BradCast. Here are some of the stories that made the difficult cut. [Audio link to show follows below.]...
First up: The Department of Justice appears to have ignored its own guidelines for dealing with journalists and their Constitutional First Amendment protections. James A. Wolfe, a 30-year veteran of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in charge of security, has now been charged with three counts of lying to federal investigators as part of an aggressive leak investigation. It should be noted that he has not (at least yet) been charged with leaking classified information, just of lying to investigators.
Related to that indictment, we have now learned that New York Times journalist Ali Watkins, said to have been in a romantic relationship with Wolfe at one time, had at least a year's worth of her phone and email records secretly seized by Trump's DoJ without her knowledge. That means the confidential sources and whistleblowers (above and beyond Wolfe, who, she says, was never a source of classified information for her) have presumably now all been exposed to the DoJ. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that his DoJ has tripled the number of leak investigations carried out by Obama's DoJ, which had already prosecuted more government leakers than all previous Administrations combined.
The turn of events has, justifiably, gravely alarmed journalists and First Amendment advocates, such as the Freedom of the Press Foundation which has decried both the indictments of Wolfe and, in particular, the spying on Atkins, who was given no opportunity to challenge the matter in court. "Having her private records scrutinized and spied on by the government for doing her job as a journalist, and the Justice Department's move should be loudly condemned by everyone no matter your political preference," said Trevor Timm, the Foundation's Executive Director.
Next: In another alarming break with both precedent and tradition, Trump's DoJ announced they would not defend the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") against a lawsuit filed by some 20 Republican state Attorneys General. The DoJ traditionally defends federal laws duly adopted by Congress and signed by the President in all but the most extreme circumstances. According to experts, however, this is an otherwise very weak case against the law which has ensured affordable health care for tens of millions of Americans since its passage in 2010.
We explain the basis for the suit, and how, if successful, it would gut two of the most popular provisions of the ACA, it's restriction on charging the elderly more for health insurance, and on insurance companies denying covering to those with pre-existing conditions.
Three career attorneys at DoJ were removed from the case on Thursday so that a Trump political appointee could take it over and flip the Department's previous position defending ACA and opposing the lawsuit. Nonetheless, some 17 state Attorneys General from Democratic leaning states have interceded to oppose the suit and defend the federal law.
Finally today: As if all of that isn't disturbing enough. A new bill introduced in Congress, supported by the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, would see rent for low-income tenants in federally-subsidized housing increased by an average of 26% --- year after year, according to a new analysis! The "Make Affordable Housing Work Act" introduced in April, would affect roughly four million American households, many of them families with children who could be forced into homelessness by this extraordinary cruel measure which Carson recently described on Fox "News" as "our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty."
Our guest today, former director of the Public Housing Management and Occupancy Division at the HUD under Barack Obama, DIANE YENTEL, charges that Carson's statement is "as absurd as it sounds. Clearly, increasing rents on people isn't the way out of poverty, it's the way deeper into poverty. And potentially homelessness."
Yentel, now President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, explains the extraordinary measure, noting that "by design, the greatest burden falls on seniors, people with disabilities, and families with young kids." In fact, the measure would, according to AP, "increase the percentage of income poor tenants are required to pay from 30 percent to 35 percent [of their income, and] would eliminate deductions, for medical care and child care, and for each child in a home."
Moreover, while Carson's HUD claims the elderly and disabled would be exempt from the change, Yentel charges that "is just not true", and explains how an estimated 314,000 households stand to lose their elderly or disabled status and will see their rents increased as well.
She goes on to argue that we already face a massive housing crisis for low and middle-income Americans, and that this measure would only make things far worse. "The housing crisis that we're in right now has reached historic heights. It's most negatively impacting the lowest income people. The National Low Income Housing Coalition's research [shows] we currently have a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available for the lowest income people. Nationwide, for every 100 of the lowest-income people who need housing assistance, there's only 35 homes that are affordable and available to them."
Yentel goes on to tell me that most of those who would be effected are already working families, and that while raising the federal minimum wage is a necessary part of making housing affordable for millions of these Americans, it would have to be raised to more than $21 per hour for most to be able to afford a modest, two bedroom apartment. That, even as the wealth disparity between rich and poor in the U.S. continues to grow in the wake of the Trump/GOP tax cuts last year, gifting some $1.5 trillion to the wealthiest of Americans who need it the least and now "by cutting the programs that give the most basic resources, basic benefits, to the lowest income, most vulnerable people in our country."
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