Lesser-Known Fun Facts About Each U.S. Presidents

Unfortunately, I’m working this Presidents Day — which is the birthday of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — so I’ve decided to just share this interesting article from HuffPost that offers at least one quirky fact about each president (Taft gets two, since he is the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms — there’s a fun fact!). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot that he taught how to swear.
  • Supposedly, President Van Buren popularized one of the most commonly used phrases to date: “OK”, or “Okay”. Van Buren was from Kinderhook, NY which was also called “Old Kinderhook”. His support groups came to be known as “O.K. Clubs” and the term OK came to mean “all right”.
  • When Abe Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois in 1831, he ran into a local bully named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong challenged Lincoln to a wrestling match outside of Denton Offutt’s store, where Lincoln was a clerk, and townspeople gathered to watch and wager on it. Lincoln won.
  • Andrew Johnson was drunk during his inauguration (go figure, he’s considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history).
  • After leaving office, William Taft became the only ex-president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, effectively becoming the only person to serve as the head of two branches of government. In doing so, he swore in both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to the presidency. (On an unrelated note, he also lost 150 pounds after leaving office.)
  • To date, Woodrow Wilson was the only president to hold a doctorate degree, making him the highest educated president in the history of the United States. He was awarded the degree in Political Science and History from Johns Hopkins University. He also passed the Georgia Bar Exam despite not finishing law school.

Enjoy and have a safe and happy Presidents Day!

The Problem With ‘White History Month’

As Americans enter February, which is Black History Month, many of us will inevitably hear (or consider for ourselves) why there’s a month dedicated to blacks (and for that matter women and Hispanics) but not to whites. Setting aside the fact that minority views are often underrepresented or marginalized in mainstream history and culture — hence the effort to highlight these perspectives with their own dedicated events and institutions — Mary-Alice Daniel of Salon offers another good reason, one which explores the U.S.’s unusual, complex, and largely unknown history of racial identity.

The very notion of whiteness is relatively recent in our human history, linked to the rise of European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th century as a way to distinguish the master from the slave. From its inception, “white” was not simply a separate race, but the superior race. “White people,” in opposition to non-whites or “colored” people, have constituted a meaningful social category for only a few hundred years, and the conception of who is included in that category has changed repeatedly. If you went back to even just the beginning of the last century, you’d witness a completely different racial configuration of whites and non-whites. The original white Americans — those from England, certain areas of Western Europe, and the Nordic States — excluded other European immigrants from that category to deny them jobs, social standing, and legal privileges. It’s not widely known in the U.S. that several ethnic groups, such as Germans, Italians, Russians and the Irish, were excluded from whiteness and considered non-white as recently as the early 20th century.

Members of these groups sometimes sued the state in order to be legally recognized as white, so they could access a variety of rights available only to whites — specifically American citizenship, which was then limited, by the U.S. Naturalization Law of 1790, to “free white persons” of “good character.” Attorney John Tehranian writes in the Yale Law Journal that petitioners could present a case based not on skin color, but on “religious practices, culture, education, intermarriage and [their] community’s role,” to try to secure their admission to this elite social group and its accompanying advantages.

More than color, it was class that defined race. For whiteness to maintain its superiority, membership had to be strictly controlled. The “gift” of whiteness was bestowed on those who could afford it, or when it was politically expedient. In his book “How the Irish Became White,”Noel Ignatiev argues that Irish immigrants were incorporated into whiteness in order to suppress the economic competitiveness of free black workers and undermine efforts to unite low-wage black and Irish Americans into an economic bloc bent on unionizing labor. The aspiration to whiteness was exploited to politically and socially divide groups that had more similarities than differences. It was an apple dangled in front of working-class immigrant groups, often as a reward for subjugating other groups.

A lack of awareness of these facts has lent credence to the erroneous belief that whiteness is inherent and has always existed, either as an actual biological difference or as a cohesive social grouping. Some still claim it is natural for whites to gravitate to their own and that humans are tribal and predisposed to congregate with their kind. It’s easy, simple and natural: White people have always been white people. Thinking about racial identity is for those other people.

Those who identify as white should start thinking about their inheritance of this identity and understand its implications. When what counts as your “own kind” changes so frequently and is so susceptible to contemporaneous political schemes, it becomes impossible to argue an innate explanation for white exclusion. Whiteness was never about skin color or a natural inclination to stand with one’s own; it was designed to racialize power and conveniently dehumanize outsiders and the enslaved. It has always been a calculated game with very real economic motivations and benefits.

This revelation should not function as an excuse for those in groups recently accepted as white to claim to understand racism, to absolve themselves of white privilege or to deny that their forefathers, while not considered white, were still, in the hierarchy created by whites, responsible in turn for oppressing those “lower” on the racial scale. During the Civil War, Irish immigrants were responsible for some of the most violent attacks against freedmen in the North, such as the wave of lynchings during the 1863 Draft Riots, in which “the majority of participants were Irish,” according to Eric Foner’s book “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877”and various other sources.  According to historian Dominic Pacyga, Polish Americans groups in Chicago and Detroit “worked to prevent the integration of blacks into their communities by implementing rigid housing segregation” out of a fear that black people would “leap over them into a higher social status position.”

Behind every racial conversation is a complex history that extends to present-day interactions and policies, and we get nowhere fast if large swaths of our population have a limited frame of reference. An understanding of whiteness might have prevented the utter incapability of some Americans to realize that “Hispanic” is not a race — that white Hispanics do exist, George Zimmerman among them. This knowledge might have lessened the cries that Trayvon Martin’s murder could not have been racially motivated and might have led to, if not a just verdict, a less painfully ignorant response from many white Americans.

As for how all this ties into why a white history month would be wrongheaded and besides the point:

If students are taught that whiteness is based on a history of exclusion, they might easily see that there is nothing in the designation as “white” to be proud of. Being proud of being white doesn’t mean finding your pale skin pretty or your Swedish history fascinating. It means being proud of the violent disenfranchisement of those barred from this category. Being proud of being black means being proud of surviving this ostracism. Be proud to be Scottish, Norwegian or French, but not white.

Above all, such an education might help answer the question of whose problem modern racism really is. The current divide is a white construction, and it is up to white people to do the necessary work to dismantle the system borne from the slave trade, instead of ignoring it or telling people of color to “get over” its extant legacy. Critics of white studies have claimed that this kind of inquiry leads only to self-hatred and guilt. Leaving aside that avoiding self-reflection out of fear of bad feelings is the direct enemy of personal and intellectual growth, I agree that such an outcome should be resisted, because guilt is an unproductive emotion, and merely feeling guilty is satisfying enough for some. My hope in writing this is that white Americans will discover how it is they came to be set apart from non-whites and decide what they plan to do about it.

What do you think?

Map: U.S. Life Expectancy By State

Although the average American is living an impressive 30 years longer than 100 years ago — about 79.8 — by global standards, the U.S. still remains middle-of-the-road despite its great wealth; typically, we’re in the mid-thirties, usually along the same level as Cuba, Chile, or Costa Rica. Furthermore, life expectancy varies wildly from state to state, as the following map from The Atlantic clearly shows:

Life expectancy by state compared to closest matching country.

There’s profound variation by state, from a low of 75 years in Mississippi to a high of 81.3 in Hawaii. Mostly, we resemble tiny, equatorial hamlets like Kuwait and Barbados. At our worst, we look more like Malaysia or Oman, and at our best, like the United Kingdom. No state approaches the life expectancies of most European countries or some Asian ones. Icelandic people can expect to live a long 83.3 years, and that’s nothing compared to the Japanese, who live well beyond 84.

Life expectancy can be causal, a factor of diet, environment, medical care, and education. But it can also be recursive: People who are chronically sick are less likely to become wealthy, and thus less likely to live in affluent areas and have access to the great doctors and Whole-Foods kale that would have helped them live longer.

It’s worth noting that the life expectancy for certain groups within the U.S. can be much higher—or lower—than the norm. The life expectancy for African Americans is, on average, 3.8 years shorter than that of whites. Detroit has a life expectancy of just 77.6 years, but that city’s Asian Americans can expect to live 89.3 years.

But overall, the map reflects what we’d expect: People in southern states, which generally have lower incomes and higher obesity rates, tend to die sooner, and healthier, richer states tend to foster longevity.

It’s also worth adding that overall, the U.S. is far less healthy and long-lived than it should be, even when you adjust for wealth, race, and other factors (e.g. young Americans are less healthy than young people in other developed countries, rich people are typically less healthy than other rich non-Americans, etc).

Inequality Isn’t Just a Moral Problem, But a Practical One

Whenever the topic of socioeconomic inequality is brought up, the emphasis is usually placed upon its moral and humanitarian consequences. While this is certainly a valid approach — after all, there’s a lot of human suffering involved — there is another factor to consider: inequality is bad for business, the economy, and the nation’s long-term political stability (one would hope that this would also win over those for whom poverty isn’t a moral problem, but many such individuals typically either don’t recognize inequality as a growing problem, or reject that it has such consequences).

An article by Daniel Altman of Foreign Policy highlights the argument fairly succinctly, noting that the practical problems of inequality could actually just as bad, if not worse, than the social ones:

When any market has a shortage, not everyone gets the things they want. But who does get them also matters, because it’s not always the people who value those things the most.

Economists Edward Glaeser and Erzo Luttmer made this point in a 2003 paper about rent control. “The standard analysis of price controls assumes that goods are efficiently allocated, even when there are shortages,” they wrote. “But if shortages mean that goods are randomly allocated across the consumers that want them, the welfare costs from misallocation may be greater than the undersupply costs.” In other words, letting the wrong people buy the scarce goods can be even worse for society than the scarcity itself.

This problem, which economists call inefficient allocation, is present in the market for opportunities as well. It’s best for the economy when the person best able to exploit an opportunity is the one who gets it. By giving opportunities to these people, we make the economic pie as big as possible. But sometimes, the allocation of opportunity is not determined solely by effort or ability.

For example, consider all of the would-be innovators, thinkers, and other social contributors who are otherwise precluded from realizing their potential — and benefiting society further — due a lack of resources? Conversely, what happens when unqualified or immoral people are allowed to amass disproportionate amount of wealth and resources, and thus gain all the outsized political and economic influence that goes with it? As the article goes on to note, unless you meet the ever-higher financial demands needed to access the avenues of influences and personal development, you wont’t get far in America:

To a great degree, access to opportunity in the United States depends on wealth. Discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and sexual discrimination may be on the wane in many countries, but discrimination based on wealth is still a powerful force. It opens doors, especially for people who may not boast the strongest talents or work ethic.

Country club memberships, charity dinners, and other platforms for economic networking come with high price tags decided by existing elites. Their exclusion of a whole swath of society because of something other than human potential automatically creates scope for inefficient allocation. But it’s not always people who do the discriminating; sometimes it’s just the system.

For instance, consider elected office. It’s a tremendous opportunity, both for the implementation of a person’s ideas and, sad to say, for financial enrichment as well. Yet running for office takes money — lots of it — and there are no restrictions on how much a candidate may spend. As a result, the people who win have tended to be very wealthy.

Of course, political life isn’t the only economic opportunity with a limited number of spots. In the United States, places at top universities are so scant that many accept fewer than 10 percent of applicants. Even with need-blind admissions, kids from wealthy backgrounds have huge advantages; they apply having received better schooling, tutoring if they needed it, enrichment through travel, and good nutrition and healthcare throughout their youth.

The fact that money affects access to these opportunities, even in part, implies some seats in Congress and Ivy League lecture halls would have been used more productively by poorer people of greater gifts. These two cases are particularly important, because they imply that fighting poverty alone is not enough to correct inefficient allocations. With a limited number of places at stake, what matters is relative wealth, or who can outspend whom. And when inequality rises, this gap grows.

I would hope that it goes without saying  that it’s problematic when a majority of society’s policymakers, public officials, academics, corporate executives, and other influential classes come from the same small (and narrowing) economic class of people. Diversity of experience and background is valuable to informing how society should be run. If all kinds of groups are locked out of the avenues of power due to not fitting some arbitrary requirement (in this case money and the connections that it brings), then it bodes ill for our ability to solve pressing problems.

So here comes the tricky and controversial part: how do we solve this problem?

If you believe that poor people are poor because they are stupid or lazy — and that their children probably will be as well — then the issue of inefficient allocation disappears. But if you think that a smart and hardworking child could be born into a poor household, then inefficient allocation is a serious problem. Solving it would enhance economic growth and boost the value of American assets.

There are two options. The first is to remove wealth from every process that doles out economic opportunities: take money out of politics, give all children equal schooling and college prep, base country club admissions on anonymous interviews, etc. This will be difficult, especially since our society is moving rapidly in the other direction. Election campaigns are flooded with more money than ever, and the net price of a college education — after loans and grants — has jumped even as increases in list prices have finally slowed. Poor kids who do make it to college will have to spend more time scrubbing toilets and dinner trays and less time studying.

The other option is to reduce inequality of wealth. Giving poor children a leg up through early childhood education or other interventions might help, but it would also take decades. So would deepening the progressivity of the income tax, which only affects flows of new wealth and not existing stocks. In the meantime, a huge amount of economic activity might be lost to inefficient allocation.

The easiest way to redistribute wealth continues to be the estate tax, yet it is politically unpopular and applies to only about 10,000 households a year. All of this might change, however, as more research estimates the harm caused by inequality through the inefficient allocation of opportunities.

This kind of research is not always straightforward, since it measures things that didn’t happen as well as those that did. Nevertheless, some economists have already shown how value can be destroyed through inheritance and cronyism among the wealthy. Scaled up to the entire economy, the numbers are on the order of billions of dollars.

These costs are not unique to the United States. Even as globalization has reduced inequality between countries, it has often increased inequality within them; the rich are better able to capitalize on its opportunities. Where nepotism and privilege are prevalent, the costs are amplified.

Needless to say, this a complicated issue that will take a lot more than a few changes to regulatory and tax policies. What do you think of this issue or the solution posited?

The Poverty Trap

Another great article from The Atlantic explores how living in a state of poverty entails a vicious cycle from which most victims struggle to escape — often for the rest of their lives and to no avail. The problem is worsened by the persistent (and arguably growing) social stigma attached to poverty: in addition to dealing with the financial and psychological hardship that comes with scarcity, America’s poor must contend with cruel assumptions about their character and social worth:

By the Reagan era, it had become a cornerstone of conservative ideology that poverty is caused not by low wages or a lack of jobs and education, but by the bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles of the poor.

Picking up on this theory, pundits and politicians have bemoaned the character failings and bad habits of the poor for at least the past 50 years. In their view, the poor are shiftless, irresponsible, and prone to addiction. They have too many children and fail to get married. So if they suffer from grievous material deprivation, if they run out of money between paychecks, if they do not always have food on their tables—then they have no one to blame but themselves.

In the 1990s, with a bipartisan attack on welfare, this kind of prejudice against the poor took a drastically misogynistic turn. Poor single mothers were identified as a key link in what was called “the cycle of poverty.” By staying at home and collecting welfare, they set a toxic example for their children, who—important policymakers came to believe—would be better off being cared for by paid child care workers or even, as Newt Gingrich proposed, in orphanages.

This perception hasn’t gone away, even as the recession has eliminated the number of decent jobs once held by well-educated and hard-working people, who upon joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed, are now subsequently seen as irresponsible, lazy, or otherwise at fault for their predicament (economic structural changes outside their control be damned).

The meager if still noticeable growth in jobs hasn’t changed much, given that most new position are in low-wage sectors like retail and fast-food that simply don’t offer enough to survive, nor provide much in the way of upward mobility.

What I discovered is that in many ways, these jobs are a trap: They pay so little that you cannot accumulate even a couple of hundred dollars to help you make the transition to a better-paying job. They often give you no control over your work schedule, making it impossible to arrange for child care or take a second job. And in many of these jobs, even young women soon begin to experience the physical deterioration—especially knee and back problems—that can bring a painful end to their work life.

Depending on where you live, such jobs are pretty much all there is to choose from, and employees have few resources or time available to the training or education they need to expand their options (and in any case, those alternatives are no longer as likely to improve your circumstances as they once were; if anything, the subsequent debt most people would need to take on to go those routes could worsen their predicament). This leads to the crux of the article:

I was also dismayed to find that in some ways, it is actually more expensive to be poor than not poor. If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.

Most private-sector employers offer no sick days, and many will fire a person who misses a day of work, even to stay home with a sick child. A nonfunctioning car can also mean lost pay and sudden expenses. A broken headlight invites a ticket, plus a fine greater than the cost of a new headlight, and possible court costs. If a creditor decides to get nasty, a court summons may be issued, often leading to an arrest warrant. No amount of training in financial literacy can prepare someone for such exigencies—or make up for an income that is impossibly low to start with. Instead of treating low-wage mothers as the struggling heroines they are, our political culture still tends to view them as miscreants and contributors to the “cycle of poverty.”

If anything, the criminalization of poverty has accelerated since the recession, with growing numbers of states drug testing applicants for temporary assistance, imposing steep fines for school truancy, and imprisoning people for debt. Such measures constitute a cruel inversion of the Johnson-era principle that it is the responsibility of government to extend a helping hand to the poor. Sadly, this has become the means by which the wealthiest country in the world manages to remain complacent in the face of alarmingly high levels of poverty: by continuing to blame poverty not on the economy or inadequate social supports, but on the poor themselves.

It’s practically a coping method: instead of coming to terms with the intrinsic inequities and flaws of our economic system — which would require tremendous changes and considerable public investment — it’s much easier to view the matter on a individual level of analysis, which places the onus on the individuals  (or perhaps a particular, often marginalized, subculture) to change. But given what few avenues there now are to improve one’s socioeconomic status, what more can the poor do?

Sure, a good number manage to climb out one way or another; we all know of at least one anecdotal or famous rags-to-riches stories. But those stand out precisely because they’re rare occurrences. The ranks of the poor are growing concurrently with the rise of inequality, the decline in well-paying jobs, and the gutting of programs once dedicated to providing assistance. It seems clear that as long as the means of self-sufficiency are out of reach, poverty will remain.

Sadly, I don’t have time to explore the issue further, but as always, I invite you to share your views.

What Martin Luther King Jr. Stood For

Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of the most enduring and popular figures in American history, and rightfully so: his brilliant oratory, moral integrity, and steadfast dedication to social justice make him a timeless role model for people across the world.

But like most prominent figures, especially those who promoted such ambitious goals, many have come to challenge King’s contributions; namely, whether his goals were ultimately achieved. Given the persistence of racial inequality — highlighted by disproportional rates of poverty, imprisonment, and the like — it’s easy, if not understandable, to consider King’s dream a failure (or at least a work in progress).

While I sadly don’t have the time to share my own thoughts on the matter, I’ve found a great piece on DailyKos that more or less echoes my views as well. I recommend you read the whole article, but the following excerpt represents the crux of it:

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war-like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on. But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears. So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today. If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did—not march, not give good speeches. He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us. It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid. So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one. Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.

What are your thoughts?

Thomas Jefferson, the French, and a Debate About Moose

If that title doesn’t get your attention, than that of the NPR article I just read will: “Thomas Jefferson Needs A Dead Moose Right Now To Defend America.” That in turn references the unusual book, “Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking At People Looking at Animals in America.” Needless to say, both the book and the article are pretty interesting. Here’s this gem for example.

So, from his residence in Paris, Jefferson wrote his colleagues — Franklin, Madison, and others — asking them to go out and measure American animals, so he could create his own data set. As biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin describes it in his bookMr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, the Founding Fathers quickly responded. Madison sent Jefferson a precise description of a local Virginian weasel, measuring all the parts — down to the “distance between the anus and the vulva.”

Jefferson put all these measurements into a table, and published it years later in his Notes on the State of Virginia, comparing a 410-pound bear from America to Europe’s 153.7-pound version, America’s 12-pound otter to Europe’s 8.9-pounder. Mooallem describes Jefferson as a man obsessed. He had to prove Buffon wrong, and (this being an Enlightened Age) he wanted to prove it scientifically — by measuring, describing and building his argument.

I’ll let you figure out what this out-of-context quote means. It’s actually a fascinating story that touches on the power of symbolism, the amusing pettiness of even the most respectable and intelligent statesmen, and the passionate (if not quirky) dedication of one of our most prominent historical figures.

No Glory For Killed Soldiers

The following was a very interesting read, although I wonder if the issues described in the excerpt and wider article are really anything new in American history (or for that matter, military history in general).

Throughout history, our nation’s greatest leaders have understood on a deeply personal level that however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain, and that it is the responsibility of the leaders and citizenry to see to it that they don’t. Our country has lost its sense of that responsibility to a horrifying extent. Our generals have lost the capability to succeed and the integrity to admit failure. Our society has lost the courage and energy to hold them accountable. Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.

Thomas E. Ricks, Yes, Marcus. They Did Die in Vain.

What are your thoughts?

What the World Thinks of America in 10 Words or Less

NPR asked Americans living abroad to tell answer the following question in 10 words or less: What Do People In Your Host Country Think Of America?. Here are some of the answers (click the link to see them all).

Cheap iPhones, rap music and better movies exist in America.” — Russia

“Gun-loving but fun-loving; hard working but spoiled and fat.” — Hungary

“Americans are aggressive, paranoid gun-hoarders who don’t want social health care.” — China

“Americans are very patriotic and all have guns.” — Italy

“Full of contradictions: confusingly progressive yet behind the times.” — Spain

“Has a limited worldview and is absolutely crazy about guns.” — New Zealand

Notice a theme with many of these?

This is part of NPR’s “Project Xpat”, which explores the lives and experiences of Americans living abroad. It’s very interesting stuff, so check it out when you have the chance.

Seven Ways Corporations and Economic Elites

The following is courtesy of AlterNet.

1. Corporations Profit from Food Stamps

It’s odd to think about billion-dollar financial institutions objecting to cuts in the SNAP program, but some of them are administrators of the program, collecting fees from a benefit meant for children and other needy Americans, and enjoying subsidies of state tax money for services that could be performed by the states themselves. They want more people on food stamps, not less. Three corporations have cornered the market: JP Morgan, Xerox, and eFunds Corp.

According to a JP Morgan spokesman, the food stamp program “is a very important business to JP Morgan. It’s an important business in terms of its size and scale…The good news from JP Morgan’s perspective is the infrastructure that we built has been able to cope with that increase in volume..”

2. Crash the Economy, Get Your Money Back. Die with a Student Loan, Stay in Debt.

The financial industry has manipulated the bankruptcy laws to ensure that high-risk derivatives, which devastated the market in 2008, have FIRST CLAIM over savings deposit insurance, pension funds, and everything else.

But the same banker-friendly “bankruptcy reform” has ensured that college graduates keep their student loans till they die. And sometimes even after that, as the debt is assumed by their co-signing parents.

3. Almost 70 Percent of Corporations Are Not Required to Pay ANY Federal Taxes
 
And that’s even before tax avoidance kicks in. The ‘nontaxable’ designation exempts 69% of U.S. corporations from taxes, thus sparing them the expense of hiring tax lawyers to contrive tax avoidance strategies.

The Wall Street Journal states, “The percentage of U.S. corporations organized as nontaxable businesses has grown from about 24% in 1986 to about 69% as of 2008, according to the latest-available Internal Revenue Service data. The percentage of all firms is far higher when partnerships and sole proprietors are included.”

In recent years the businesses taking advantage of the exemption include law firms, hedge funds, real estate partnerships, venture capital firms, and investment banks.

4. Lotteries Pay for Corporate Tax Avoidance

This means revenue comes from the poorest residents of a community rather than from billion-dollar corporations. Many of the lottery players don’t realize how bad the odds are. Fill out $2 tickets for 12 hours a day for 50 years and you’ll have half a chance of winning.

Some astonishing facts reveal the extent of the problem. Low-income households spend anywhere from five to nine percent of their earnings on lotteries. A Pennsylvania survey found that nearly half of low-income residents planned to gamble at a newly-opened casino. America’s gambling losses in 2007 were nine times greater than just 25 years before.

5. The National Football League Pays No Federal Taxes

One of the most profitable organizations in America, with billions in tickets, TV rights, and merchandise sales, and with an NFL Commissioner who earned more money than the CEOs of Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and AT&T, is considered a non-profit. It has a tax-exempt status.

It gets even worse. While the individual teams themselves are not exempt from federal taxes, they enjoy multi-million-dollar subsidies from their states for new and refurbished stadiums. Fans – and non-fans – of the Washington Redskins, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Minnesota Vikings, the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are among those who pay taxes for their hometown football fields. New Orleans taxpayers paid for leather stadium seats. For the Dallas Cowboys, a $6 million property tax bill was waived.

A Harvard University urban planning study determined that 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, rather than by NFL owners.

6. Live on Park Avenue, Get a Farm Subsidy

A disturbing but fascinating report called “Farm Subsidies and the Big Dogs” lists Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York City, in that order, as the worst offenders.

— In New York, “Many entities receive the federal subsidies at their downtown office buildings, such as 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or at their million dollar residential condos.”

— In Chicago, “Nearly every neighborhood in the city receives federal farm subsidy payments – including the Gold Coast, Downtown-Loop, Lincoln Park, and even the President’s neighbors in Hyde Park.”

— In Washington, “Even U.S. Senators are receiving farm subsidy checks.”

Perhaps more of us should become farmers. In Florida, according to Forbes, “anyone could legally qualify their land as farmland by stocking it with a few cows.” Wealthy heir Mark Rockefeller received $342,000 to NOT farm, to allow his Idaho land to return to its natural state.

7. Profit Margin Magic: Turning a dollar into $100,000

Both printer ink and bottled water cost the consumer more than they should. Calculations by DataGenetics reveal that the ink in a $16.99 cartridge comes to almost $3,400 per gallon. The cost of a gallon of cartridge ink would buy enough gasoline to run the average car for over two years.

Water seems to cost less than that, until the details are factored in. Companies buy public water at almost no cost, treat it in unknown ways, and then sell it back to us at an exorbitant markup. Nestle, for example, pays about two dollars for public water that produces about 100,000 plastic bottles of water.