Do you know what "Beef" is?
I mean do you really, know what “Beef” is? It’s apparent most of the Hip-hop world only thinks it does. Although the ruckus seems to have died down, I can still hardly make it through a week without hearing the latest rap “dis record”, featuring one rapper leveling empty threats and questionable accusations, at another over some alleged disagreement. Most of the time the so-called dispute is over something that may or may not have happened; something silly on the level of “which slave has the flyest chains”; or something contrived by a less popular artist so he can piggy-back off the fame of another artist currently in the spotlight. Anytime you can make threats against an artist and his family and still go to the same parties, events, and award shows and there isn’t a problem then you know the hatred doesn’t run that deep. But while the rap world is mired in it’s ultra-macho, pretend confrontations there is real a “Beef” going on around the globe, and the U.S. is a prime example. This “Beef” runs deep and it is far older then Hip-Hop itself, but recently it has once again bubbled to the surface, even if MTV, commercial radio, and Vibe Magazine won’t cover it. There won’t be any summits or meetings to squash it and nobody is going to “get on the horn and call Minister Farrakhan” to cool things off. This “Beef” is far beyond words and it’s a life and death struggle. Real "Beef" is Class War. And it’s “real life happening every day, and it’s realer than those songs that you gave to K-Slay[Dj]”.
Armed with the events of 9-11 as an all purpose excuse, and led by the return of the neo-conservatives junta in the form of George Bush Jr., the U.S. ruling class has raised the stakes and embarked on an all out assault on the working and middle class, and the poor in the U.S. (and also globally but that’s another story). Virtually every aspect of the average U.S. citizen’s standard of living is under attack. I wouldn’t even call it “The Takeover” because the same class has always been in control but now it’s getting “Superugly”.
Led by the Bush administration and the most right-wing elements of the ruling class, the assault on workers has been thorough and unrelenting, extending into almost every sector of the labor force. Even the enforcement arm of the ruling financial elite, a.k.a. the rank and file of the U.S. military, isn’t immune. Back in August of 2003, amidst military and “defense” spending that consistently continues to rise, the Bush administration tried to cut the pay of the 150,000 plus U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, by rescinding pay increases in "imminent danger" and "family separation allowances" which were approved last April. Shortly thereafter Bush announced he was using his authority to cut the size of the pay raise most federal workers were to receive this year. For those not receiving government checks the plans were just as nasty. Using benign sounding names like “The Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act” and “The Family Time Flexibility Act”, the Bush administration is looking for a “2nd Round K.O.” on every workers finances, by erecting new rules that will erode the limits of the 40-hour workweek, and could affect more than 80 million workers now protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
After passing in the House in July 2003, the U.S. Senate, in September 2003, voted to block a proposal by the White House to overhaul the nations overtime rules. The Senates block came despite a threatened veto by the White House, which would take a two-thirds vote of both houses to override (not likely). According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, more than 8 million professionals would lose their overtime pay if the changes are instituted. Under the new proposals, at least 644,000 well-paid, white-collar workers would lose overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week, while 1.3 million lower-wage workers now exempt from overtime would become eligible, or must receive a raise. The trick however, is that it excludes previously protected workers who were entitled to overtime by reclassifying them as managers. So beware if you're doing inventory on the night shift at The Gap, making overtime, and then SHIZZAM -- the boss wants to make you the “assistant night manager”. That “promotion” might not come with a raise or overtime.
Under the proposals, overtime protections could also be removed from large numbers of workers in aerospace, defense, health care, high tech and other industries, including emergency medical technicians, paralegals, licensed practical nurses, draftsmen, surveyors, reporters, editors, chefs, cooks, dental hygienists and health technicians (workers covered by union contracts would not be affected). The new proposals would also eliminate certain middle-income workers from overtime protections by adding an income limit, above which workers no longer qualify for overtime. A review of the plans done by Molly Ivins, and reprinted on the website workingforchange.com last April, also showed that employers would get to “substitute comp time” for overtime pay, and the employers get the right to decide when -- or even if -- a worker gets to take his or her comp time. The legislation also “provides no meaningful protection against employers requiring workers to take time off instead of cash and no protection against employers assigning overtime only to workers who agree to take time instead of cash”. This is in addition to giving, “employers a new right to delay paying any wages for overtime work for as long as 13 months”.
Also noteworthy about this latest rounds of attacks on the working class is that they are now spreading to the white collar, high-tech, and better paying sectors. It’s no longer a secret that the manufacturing industry in general in the United States, has steadily been losing jobs. As of September 2003, manufacturing employment had declined by 2.7 million jobs in the last 3 years marking the longest decline since the Great Depression. In a survey of the world's 100 largest financial services firms, Deloitte Research found that these companies expect to shift $356 billion worth of operations and about 2 million jobs to low-wage countries over the next five years. White-collar jobs -- telemarketing, accounting, claims adjusting, home loan processing, architectural practices, radiographers and even some state and local government jobs -- are going offshore. These developments appear already to be affecting wages in some sectors. According to Sharon Marsh Roberts of the Independent Computer Consultants Association, outsourcing has forced down hourly wage rates by 10 percent to 40 percent for many U.S. computer consultants.
Recent forecast by some of the world’s largest high-tech forecasting agency predict that One out of 10 jobs in the U.S. computer services and software industry could shift to lower-cost emerging markets such as India or Russia by the end of 2004, and that 500,000 of the 10.3 million U.S. technology jobs could move just in 2003 and 2004. For example, beginning this year IBM Corp. plans to move up 4,700 programming jobs to India, China and other countries, while another 3,700 jobs have been identified as having the "potential to move offshore," according to IBM documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal. In addition, International Data Corp., reports that foreign workers performed about 5 percent of information technology services for American companies this year, but by 2007, that share will grow to 23 percent. If you've recently called Dell about a PC problem or American Express about an error on your bill, you have probably already encountered this outsourced labor.
Apparently CEOs like Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina and Intel's Craig Barrett, feel that Americans are not entitled to have access to jobs. Fiorina was quoted as saying, "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore" she added, "We have to compete for jobs." (Please note that this “WE” does not include American CEOs and executives). Intel CEO Barrett stated recently that, "the United States now has to compete for every job going forward. That has not been on the table before. It had been assumed we had a lock on white-collar jobs and high-tech jobs. That is no longer the case." This sentiment was echoed and reinforced by Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, approximately 2 weeks ago when he openly argued that the movement of white-collar jobs overseas was a positive that has economic benefits that may help boost U.S. economic growth (pretty accurate when you define the “economy” as the profit margins of major U.S. corporations).
Even before companies began outsourcing white collar labor, U.S. labor activists were pushing to limit the number of H-1B and L-1 visas granted to foreign workers. The H-1B and L-1 visa program was supposed to help match demand for domestic high-tech workers during the U.S. “tech boom” but many now view it as a way for corporations to import cheaper labor to work in high-tech industries. For a long time those “phat checks” and superior perks left much of the white-collar workforce, arrogant and self-absorbed, often causing them to adopt an outlook that embraced the corporate agenda. They were generally confused about what class they ultimately belonged to, well …they’re about to get “chin-checked”!! At the end of the day they too are part of the working class, and ultimately, as has been the case historically, they will be pitted against other workers in competition for scraps from the owners table.
Real “Beef” takes no prisoners and will “Hit’em Up” young or old by taking the form of schemes to privatize the government run Medicare program, even though such schemes have never enjoyed much public support. When the Bush administration passed it’s most recent set of “reforms” allegedly to improve the program and people’s access to it, what really happened was that most seniors and those who care for them, got pimp-slapped big time - I think I might even have a little “Blood in My Eye”. Just looking at the recent changes it’s fair to reason that the most cost effective and efficient step would have been to place the management of prescription drug coverage under the existing Medicare system, which as far as anyone can measure, was the desire of the overwhelming majority of Americans, particularly seniors. With the government-run program, as a massive purchaser of drugs, it would have been in a position to negotiate significantly lower drug prices. In almost every other industrialized country, where medical care is managed by the government, pharmaceutical prices are a fraction of those in the US. For instance, just across the border in Canada, due to the existence of a national healthcare system, drugs are up to 75 percent cheaper than in the US.
Instead the plan that passed did exactly the opposite. It placed prescription drug coverage entirely in the hands of private insurance companies and health care plans, while explicitly forbidding the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices, and it effectively blocks the importation of drugs from Canada. It also allocates tens of billions of dollars in federal funds to subsidize private health plans and insurers, who otherwise would refuse to cover most senior citizens (due to their often poor health), so that they can compete against the traditional Medicare system. Thus the federal government will pay private for-profit firms to help them undermine the government’s own health care system! Approval of the legislation in Congress followed a lobbying campaign by drug companies, led by Merck, Eli Lilly & Co. and Pfizer that spent a record $139.1 million backing the measure in the first half of the last year alone. Estimates vary, but tallies of the handouts to private insurers and health plans over the next ten years vary from $14 billion to $40 billion, and up to $139 billion for US drug makers over the next eight years. In addition according to a June 20003 report by Public Citizen, the non-profit watchdog group founded Ralph Nader, the “Drug industry lobbying ranks included 26 former members of Congress and more than half of the lobbyists employed by the industry have ‘revolving door’ connections with corporate and legal lobbying firms and the federal government. In should then come as no surprise that in reality the governments plan is designed primarily to do two things; allow drug companies to continue their practice of price-gouging the public, eventually removing any semblance of price regulation from the insurance, pharmaceutical and health care industries, and to continue the dismantling of public health care in the U.S., further splitting access to health care along the lines of class.
On the education front - “sit back and take head brother YOU must learn” - Or maybe not. Educationally there will be a lot less "Building" versus than "Destroying" . After initially supporting Bush's No Child Left Behind bill, both the American Federation of Teachers and The National Education Association, have turned on the legislation as it has become apparent that the funding to even attempt to fulfill the bills stated goals is not being provided. However, even with proper funding it is clear from the legislations' design, with its emphasis on "high-stakes testing" beginning in secondary and elementary school, that it is set up such that many public schools will be designated as "failing" by federal standards. As a consequence, these "failing" schools will be subject to severe financial penalties or outright closing, and a likely rerouting of the funds allocated for them into private and religious schools, and thus the privatization of public education.
At education's latter stages, substantial cuts in educational funding and programs available, are undermining access to higher education especially for those of middle and working class backgrounds. Simultaneously, tuition cost, are increasing drastically across the country, with more increases predicted for the near future. A February 2003 report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education showed that, state funding for education dropped in 14 states, and rose only 1.2 percent nationwide between 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. Charges for tuition and mandatory fees at four-year public institutions rose in every state. In 16 states, tuition increased in real dollar terms by more than 10 percent, with Massachusetts, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio increasing between 17-24%. Tuition at two-year community colleges is also on the rise, with increases of more than 10 percent in 10 states with Massachusetts and South Carolina reporting increases of 26%. Seventeen states also cut the amount they spent on student financial aid. For the year 2003-2004 most states either cut costs or increased tuition as well. For example students at the University of Arizona, faced a 40 percent increase in tuition, while in California tuition was expected to rise 27 percent, and at Michigan, costs were expected to go up 10 to 20 percent. According to a College Board survey, tuitions at public colleges (roughly 3 out of 4 U.S. undergraduate students attend public colleges) and universities increased almost 10 percent this year after government budget cuts and over the last decade, tuitions at both public and private institutions have increased 38 percent.
The affects of these fee increases and government spending cuts have hit hardest in public educational institutions, which are most directly affected by the state budget crises gripping the U.S. states. While financial aid has also increased recently in some cases, a much greater proportion now comes in the form of loans (debts, to be repaid) rather than grants. As of 2001-2002 loans were accounting for more than half of aid for college students, consequently, those who do go to school are saddled with enormous debts (in addition to limited job prospects due to the faltering economy). According to a 2003 study by Nellie Mae, a national provider of higher-education loans, “undergraduate student-loan debt has increased 66 percent since 1997 to $18,900”, and this amount to is expected to increase. This figure in not including debt coming from private loans and credit-cards.
The government also recently revamped it’s formula for financial aid. The new formula would trim the government's primary award program, the Pell grant, by $270 million once it takes effect in the 2004-5 academic year and it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of students will end up getting smaller Pell grants, not counting the 84,000 who it is estimated will no longer qualify. The US Congress is presently considering the final form of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act for 2004, which will likely establish federal priorities for colleges and universities for the next decade. One proposal to look out for is the tying of federal funding to graduation rates, which could have the effect of channeling public resources to private universities, but whatever it’s final form we should expect that the it will work towards the further gentrification of higher-education and to make it into a private, profit-driven industry, inaccessible to the majority of the children of the working class and people of color.
Manufacturing a Crisis
Even with the mainstream, corporate media helping you along, it’s hard to make such blatant attacks on social services and people’s basic standard of living without an excuse, so nowadays we regularly hear about the coming fiscal crisis and how the government will no longer be able to afford countless social programs. Assuming that is the case, the question must be asked how did this happen.
One reason is a significant decrease in collected tax revenue by the States and Federal government. According to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the ranks of rich Americans (adjusted incomes greater than $200,000) who claimed zero tax liability rose to 2,022 in 2000 (the last year full data was available), from a previous high of 1,467 reached in 1998, and a starting number of 37 in 1977 (when data first began being taken). Most of this increase can be attributed to legal and illegal tax evasion by corporations and the wealthy in the forms of tax shelters, loopholes, and “aggressive accounting” which cost states more than one third of the revenue due from taxes on corporate profits in 2001, according to a recent study by the Multi-state Tax Commission (national organization of taxing authorities representing 45 states). According to the same study, as a consequence, $12.4 billion was diverted from schools and other public services.
Adding to the evasion of taxes altogether, the IRS has sharply reduced the number of audits it conducts of wealthy individuals and corporations. In 2002 the IRS audited 31 percent of the largest corporations, down from 55 percent in 1992, meanwhile the audit rate for those earning more than $100,000 a year has fallen to less than 1 percent. The only group of taxpayers who have seen an actual rise in the number of audits consists of low-income taxpayers making less than $25,000 per year. Simultaneously, as the tax burden is shifted to the middle and working class, income in U.S. continues to be shifted upward. In the year 2000, the 400 wealthiest taxpayers accounted for more than 1 percent of all the income in the U.S., more than double their share just eight years earlier, but their tax burden plummeted over the period according. I.R.S. data shows that the average income of the 400 wealthiest taxpayers was almost $174 million in 2000, which is nearly quadruple the $46.8 million average in 1992. Keep in mind these figures do not include the incomes of the aforementioned, wealthy Americans who use illegal and legal forms of tax evasion to reduce their reported incomes.
But perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective. As one writer in The Wall Street Journal's November 2002 Op-Ed pages (which will take you into the minds of America’s corporate and financial elite so you can be prepared for their next 'Drive-By shooting'), seized on the tax data to argue just how “steeply progressive” the U.S. tax code is since according to their analysis those with an income above half a million dollars constituted 0.5% of taxpayers but accounted for 28% of total tax revenue. According to the editorial a person earning 12,000 per year or less was a “lucky ducky” since they could end up paying a little less than 4% of income in taxes.
In fact it must be a matter or perspective, if 12K or less annually is considered "Lucky", because while “Lucky Duckies” - and those "a couple of checks away from being Lucky Duckies” - try to make ends meet as the government is claiming broke, the hits just keep coming for the G-g-g-g-g-g Dubya Unit. When the most recent round of tax cuts were passed that deepened the income tax cut and eliminated taxes on corporate dividends, the blatant fiscal irresponsibility and wealth rewarding nature of the cuts was so apparent that even billionaire investors Warren Buffett and George Soros, Nos. 2 and 32 on Forbes Magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans, both railed against the plan. Buffett said with the planned dividend tax cut, he conceivably could pay a mere 3 percent in income taxes. Buffet went on to state, "Supporters of making dividends tax free like to paint critics as promoters of class warfare. The fact is, however, their proposal promotes class welfare. For my class".
To hide these realities, recently the Bush administration released yet another phony budget. Yet even in all it’s dishonesty, it projected a record budget deficit of $521 billion for the fiscal year 2004 with much lower deficits in future years. The promise of much lower deficits in the future of course, is based on estimates that don’t include: the cost of making the recent $1.35 trillion in tax cuts permanent, most of the costs of the Medicare prescription bill, and all of the costs of keeping American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan beyond this year. This slash-n-burn accounting led the Financial Times, traditionally the voice of British business opinion, to remark about the current administration that “the lunatics are now in charge of the asylum." Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - an organization that seems to limit its "advice" and commentary to coercing poor or needy countries to follow poisonous economic directives - remarked in a recent report that the tax cuts would do little to improve the U.S.’s economic position and that the U.S. needed to put its fiscal house in order, and return the budget to a sustainable position.
Taking the long view beyond just his year, although it’s often advertised as being around $1.4 trillion, after adjusting for reality, the projected budget deficit is actually over $7 trillion. But this is real “Beef”, not that ‘studio gangsta’ keep it on records stuff. So despite the manufactured, and partially tax cut induced, U.S. fiscal crisis, when Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was called upon to testify about the troubling state of the US budget and the potentially disastrous effects of the impending retirement of the “baby boom generation”, before a congressional committee recently, guess what he suggested to improve the situation.
Repeal the tax cuts? More aggressive pursuit of major tax evaders? Cuts in military outlays?
No, No, And HELL NO.
Instead Greenspan urged reducing social security benefits, paying for any future tax cuts by decreases in public spending or increasing other taxes, and recalculating the current retirement age - which is 65 and is already scheduled to rise to 67 - so that it keeps rising. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, calculated about a year ago, any deficit in Social Security as a result of increasing life expectancy is dwarfed by the long-term cost of the Bush tax cuts. Simply repealing the Bush tax cuts-in other words, taxing the rich by no more than they were taxed in 2001-would generate three-times as much revenue over a 75-year period as the projected Social Security shortfall. It would generate enough revenue to cover the combined deficits of Social Security and Medicare, with over a trillion dollars to spare.
The fiscal and social policies being spearheaded by the most extreme right-wing faction of America’s ruling elite, via the Bush administration make very little sense if taken at the face value of what the administration alleges they are supposed to do. If you believe the tax cuts, revamped health care plans, and changed spending priorities are about a healthy economy, a strong labor market, or better access to healthcare, education, and social services you are sadly mistaken and the actual cost of these plans are so large that the nation won’t be able to “afford” them while addressing it’s other responsibilities. But if you’re really paying attention, you understand, that’s exactly the point! Those currently leading the attack on working and middle class, actually desire a fiscal disaster which they intend to use to justify further cuts in federal spending, mainly on social programs. At some point investors in the government bond markets will be forced to re-evaluate their lending to the federal government which is represented by these huge deficits. If and when that happens, taxes (for those who still pay them) will rise again. And as for the relatively mild concessions and social programs wrestled from America’s financial oligarchy, over nearly a century of organizing, agitating, a civil uprisings - well ….“It’s MURDAAAA!”
Now ask yourself again, do you know really know what “Beef” is?
Coming soon, What’s Beef Part 2: Who Shot Ya and the Weapons of Warfare.
The Cheating of America: How Tax Avoidance and Evasion by the Super Rich Are Costing the Country Billions - and what You Can Do About It by Charles Lewis and Bill Allison and the Center for Public Integrity
Suggested Websites and Links:
The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of Playahata.com.