Showing posts with label Occupy Wall Street. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Occupy Wall Street. Show all posts

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wells Fargo Chief=Out

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf steps down amid sales scandal

"The San Francisco bank said Wednesday that Stumpf is retiring effective immediately and also relinquishing his title as chairman. He won't be receiving severance pay and the bank announced earlier that he will forfeit $41 million in stock awards."

To my friends on the right: This is the direct effect of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. (See also: Tea Party Movement RIP)

To my friends on the left: Stop whining about how you don't have any power. You do.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Occupying the Homeless

I remember, quite fondly, actually, the derision towards the Occupy movement. "Occupy a job" was a common dig along with predictions that the movement would never amount to anything.

Yet this story from the front page of newspaper illustrates several things. First, the Occupy movement has amounted to something: helping the homeless have a place to live. And they are doing it through a nonprofit umbrella which means donations, not government help.

Second, they are continuing their mission to reduce inequality by building these homes. That's something Jesus would be proud of, right? That whole helping the poor thing...mentioned more times than anything else in the Bible.

Third, they are doing it in Wisconsin, right in the back yard of Scott Walker. He has stated repeatedly that his policies will help middle class and poor families by freeing up the private sector. Where are their 98 foot houses for the homeless? Where is the Tea Party version of this?

If this is the future of the Occupy movement, I say, "Well done, folks!"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Stiglitz: Part Eight

The next chapter in Stiglitz's book, The Price of Inequality, is called "The Battle of the Budget." Written around the time of the 2011 budge battle (see also: When the Right Lost the 2012 Election Due to Moonbattery), it's frustrating that in 2013 we are still having the same fight and have not progressed.

This budget brinksmanship obscured the real economic challenges facing the country: the immediate problem posed by the high level of unemployment and the gap between the economy's potential output and its actual output, and the long term problem of growing inequality. The brinksmanship shifted attention away from these fierce problems to the issues of deficit and debt reduction.

Stiglitz describes this shift as being caused by what he terms " debt and deficit feitishists." Ironic that these people ignored the actual causes of our debt and deficit and, instead, ascribed the cause to their emotional feelings (see: psychosis) about government spending. I'll get to spending later but as he notes correctly, the four main causes of our debt and deficit are: the Bush Tax Cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Medicare D (a huge rent for the drug companies) and the underperformance of the economy itself due to contraction. The figures for each of these causes are: $3.3 trillion dollars, $2.5 trillion dollars, $500 billion dollars, $900 billion dollars. Given that we have made some small improvements in the tax structure earlier this year, these numbers aren't quite as bad anymore but they still illustrate the need for improvement.

But we still have a fundamental and systemic problem with our tax structure. The people that contribute the least to our economy (the financial sector) are taxed at a ridiculously low rate for the amount of money they make. As Stiglitz notes, the lower tax rates on capital gains did not lead to higher, sustainable growth but rather, two speculative booms (1997, early 2000s) in the technology sector and the housing sector.

Bush argued successfully in 2003 for a (temporary) cut on the tax on dividends, to a maximum of 15 percent, less than half the rate paid by someone who receives a comparable income in the form of wages and salaries. The claim was that it would lead to more investment by firms in plant and equipment, but it didn't. Arguably, it may have had the opposite effect. Firms were, in effect, encouraged to pay out dividends while the tax rates were low, leaving fewer funds inside the corporation for a good investment project, should have turned up.

Stiglitz goes on to argue the need for stiffer taxes on rents and how we need to put more taxes on the toxic things in our economy. He makes a very interesting point that considering the fact that the financial sector nearly brought down the world economy, they are "polluters" and need to be taxed accordingly. For those of you unfamiliar with basic economic theory, taxing good things distorts markets and can do harm. Taxing bad things corrects the erosion of consumer surplus and inefficiency of markets due to the public expense of something like pollution. The public has born a great deal of expense as a result of the financial collapse and the people in those markets should be taxed at a higher rate.

In addition, the financial sector (along with many other sectors of our economy ), no longer need subsidies. It continually amazes me that the Right argues vociferously for less social welfare but wants corporate welfare to continue in earnest. The tax breaks we give to the multi-billion dollar oil industry are ridiculous.

So, Stiglitz has six action items in regards to our tax system'

1. Raise taxes on the people at the top
2. Eliminate loopholes and special treatment for upper incomes
3. Eliminate subsidies
4. Tax rents at higher rate
5. Tax pollution
6. Tax the financial sector similar to the ways we tax pollution given the costs they impose on the rest of society.

As I stated above, the deal on the budget reached earlier this year is a beginning down this path but it's not enough.

Now, seeing the word "tax" is sure to cause the mouth foamers' blood to rise. They will caterwaul and bloviate about how it hurts businesses and they won't hire people but they are pushing a myth, which is a polite way of saying they are lying, as Stiglitz notes on page 225. Suppose you own a business and calculate that hiring a worker will yield you a return of $100,000. $50,000 of that will go to costs the firm has to pay (including taxes, salary, other costs etc). This leaves a profit of $50,000. Now, you had to pay an extra tax of $2500 (5 percent) on that employee, would you still hire? Of course you would. Taxes don't prevent people from hiring if there is profit involved. What prevents people from hiring is a lack of demand (discussed many times on this site) which would push that $100,000 figure downwards. If they don't have the business coming through the door, they won't hire.

Moving past the issue of revenue, let's turn our attention to spending. Stiglitz argues for more spending to really get the economy going again. He dismisses the deficit/debt fetishes and notes...

The United States is an especially good position to pursue this strategy, both because returns to public investments are so high, as a result of underinvestment for a quarter of a century, and because it borrow so cheaply long term. Unfortuneately, especially among the Right (but, even, alas, among many in the center) deficit fetishism has gained ground. The ratings agencies-still trusted despite their incredibly bad performance in recent decades-have joined in the fray, downgrading US debt. But the test of the quality of debt is the risk premium that investors demand. As the book goes to press, there is a demand for US T-bills at interest rates near zero (and, in real terms, negative)

Exactly right. The fetishists don't get to determine the quality of our debt. The free market does. It simply isn't justified on the basis of economic principles. Stiglitz goes on to note that economic stimulus can be achieved through a long standing principle called the balanced budget multiplier (increasing taxes and expenditures simultaneously while taking care to not add any more to the current deficit). He argues that if this happens, GDP would increase two to three times the rate of spending. This growth would decrease the national debt over the intermediate term (pages 217-218).

But won't all this spending make us "like Greece?" No, says Stiglitz...and everyone else who doesn't let their emotions about spending dictate policy (side note: why is it that the Right cite power hungry human nature as the reason why people in the government should not be allowed to spend money yet believe, in the same head, that people are little angels when they make financial decisions privately?). Greece owes money in euros of which they have no direct control. US debt is in dollars and we control the printing presses. The idea that we would default is pure moonbattery. Sure, you'll hear bloviating about inflation but, again, the free market does not see that happening.

One can infer that both from the very low interest rate that the government has to pay on its long-term debt and even more from what it has to pay for inflation-protected bonds (or more accurately, the difference between the returns on ordinary bonds and inflation protected bonds). Now, the market could be wrong, but then the rating agencies giving a downgrade to the United States should have explained why the market was wrong, and why they believed that there is a much higher risk of inflation than the market believed. The answers have not been forthcoming.

Likely because it was politically motivated. The United States knows that the Fed will buy government bonds. Greece has no idea if the ECB will buy their bonds at all. Essentially what's going on here is that the adolescents are playing make believe and saying that there is less faith in the US government than there actually is. Considering they are big believers in the free market, this makes no sense to me.

Some other bits from the chapter...

Reagan supply side economics, which held that lowering tax rates would increase economic activity, so much so that tax revenues would actually increase, has (as we noted in chapter 3) been disproved by what happened after both the Bush and the Reagan era tax cuts.

Ah, but we should never let reality get in the way of a good fantasy, right?

No deficit reduction group suggested a frontal attack on corporate welfare and the hidden subsidies (including the financial sector) that we've stressed in this book, partly because the Right has succeeded in convincing many Americans that an attack on corporate welfare is "class warfare." 

Of course, when Reagan said it, it was okey-dokey.

Regarding Social Security and Medicare...

In the most hopeful scenarios, the Right would privatize both services. Privatization, of course, is based on yet another myth: that government run programs must be inefficient, and privatization accordingly must be better. In fact, the transaction costs of Social Security and Medicare are much, much lower than those of private sector providing comparable services. This should not come as a surprise. The objective of the private sector is to make profits-for private companies, transaction costs are a good thing; the difference between what they take in and what they pay out is what they want to maximize. 

Social Security and Medicare can be fixed quite easily with very simple adjustments phased in over time (increasing retirement age, means testing etc). Unfortunately, no one in Congress seem willing to move towards that end. Privatization is absolutely the wrong answer and we all know the real reason why the Right wants to get their hands on that money. As Stiglitz notes..

The agenda for privatization of Social Security was not about providing more money to America's retirees or more security or about increasing efficiency. It was about one thing only: providing more money to the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent-more money to Wall Street. The magnitudes involved are potentially enormous. Think of the $2.6 trillion in the Social Security Trust fund. If Wall Street could get just 1 percent per year for managing that money, that would be an extra bonanza for the managers of $26 billion dollars a year.

It's about as obvious as the smell of pig shit.

Stiglitz round out the chapter with a discussion of how the Right likes to blame the victim (in this case, the middle class) for our economic woes. Cuts in wages reduce economic demand so, again, it makes no sense to blame your average worker, especially considering how well the wealthy have done despite the contraction. On the last few pages of the chapter he offers a scathing indictment of austerity (pages 230-231) as well as an evisceration of the myth of the failed stimulus (page 232)., explaining in detail just how awful it would have been had we not had it and how the Obama administration failed to note just how deep the hole was that we dug ourselves.

He challenges anyone to find historical examples of austerity actually working in more than just rare cases in countries that are small and had trading partners experiencing a boom. He blows apart the myth of how a government budget should be like a household budget. Considering that the former can change the macro-economy and the latter counter, one would think the differences are obvious.

So, as this latest round of budget battles gets underway, Stiglitz is correct when he says government spending can be very effective. Funds directly spend on high productivity, structural reform, and basic infrastructure will increase productivity which will include an increase in demand. One need only look at examples from the past like Grand Coulee Dam or the current return on government investment in research to see that this is true.

(Note: the link to The Price of Inequality in the first line of this post takes you to where you can look inside and read the entire book and source material)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Still Stagnate

Emmanuel Saez from UC Berkeley has released his latest report on inequality and it reminds me that I need to finish off my last three installments of Joseph Stiglitz. I'll have Part Eight up sometime next week, perfectly timed as well as the title of that chapter is "The Battle of the Budget."

Saez's latest report has quite a bit of useful information, including...

Top 1% incomes grew by 31.4% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.4% from 2009 to 2012. Hence, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, top 1% incomes increased sharply by 19.6% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 1.0%. 

So, what does all this mean?

Top 1% incomes are close to full recovery while bottom 99% incomes have hardly started to recover. 

Shocking, I know:)

Saez notes that after the Great Depression, there were policy changes that reduced this income concentration. Today, however, there have been none. Again, I'm shocked.

On page seven, the data shows that during the Clinton administration, the wealthy did quite well, increasing their income by 98 percent! Yet, so did the 99 percent, who saw their income increase by 20 percent. Now, take a look at the Bush Years. It's apparent that the policy changes under his administration favored the wealthy and even then, underperfomed compared to Bill Clinton. The collapse of 2008 seems to have permanently stagnated the income of 99 percent of Americans.

We simply can't have an economy like this. Two thirds of our economy is consumer spending and there just aren't enough people spending. They don't have any extra money.

So, what do we do now? Well, any policy changes are going to be nearly impossible to pass with the Republicans hell bent on the president failing. They certainly don't want any successes on his watch as that would really drive home the contrast between the utter failure of George W. Bush and any potential gains under Barack Obama. In fact, our economy is doing mildly better and that's just about all they can tolerate as they still have to have something negative to caterwaul about.

In some ways, I hope that we elect a moderate Republican so he or she can do all the things that Barack Obama was not allowed to do because of adolescent temper tantrums.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Personal Stories

Here's a piece from links file that I never got around to posting.

Sharing her story seemed like a way to break through her fears and to help others understand. And Nabil Laoudji's Mantle Project offers a unique way to do it: Put storytelling and civic sensibilities together to heal polarization. Mr. Laoudji does this by focusing on a controversial issue and producing performances by average citizens of diverse backgrounds who talk – entertainingly – about the experiences that have shaped their perspective on that issue.

Laoudji took this project to America and used a similar approach to bringing together very different political ideologies. The results were quite fascinating and are detailed in the article.

I've always pushed for more personal stories from people across the political spectrum. Rather than the knee jerk mouth foam, perhaps an individual story about how and why a person thinks the way they do politically. Anyone care to take a stab at it?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Worldscope: Turkey

I've always been fascinated by Turkey. A country with a rich history steeped in a magnificent culture. I think it was the transformation from being the center of all the religious wars in the world to a secular country. Sadly, in 2013, that has now changed.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been moving the country into a more religiously conservative direction since the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power more than a decade ago. What began on May 28th as a simple "occupy" protest against the closing of Gezi Park (a highly symbolic and historic park in Istanbul) has now mushroomed into large protests against current Turkish leaders all over the county with thousands injured due to police overreaction.

Gezi stands as a monument to modernity in Turkey and the plan to demolish it was angered the secularists in the country and is seen as a move backwards. Indeed, the government plans to build an Ottoman style barracks and mosque on the site so it's understandable that the people are upset. Like the Egyptians protesting in Cairo, these young Turks are young, secular-minded women students to football fans, from the urban middle class to "the typical urban poor youth", according to the BBC's Paul Mason, who has been reporting from Istanbul.

I find it very heartening that the people in Turkey and Egypt are not putting up with any sort of shift  to religious conservatism. They want democracy, liberty and freedom and they are getting it, interestingly, with the help of social media. Prime Minister Erdogan has been attempting to shut down Twitter feeds, calling them "a scourge." He, like many other leaders trying exert more control on their people, are stymied by American technology. Love it!

BBC has a nice Q & A on the situation in Turkey. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Did They Miss It?

Interesting piece from Martin Sandbu about the Occupy Movement. To a certain extent, I agree with him. They had a chance to become the left's equivalent of the Tea Party but the very structure of the organization lent itself to not quite get there. With the "no leader" pledge, they pretty much set themselves up to be irrelevant in the current socio-political framework.

Yet, they did leave behind the "Legacy of the Percent" meme which ended up defining Mitt Romney (the 47 percent). I think Sandbu and many people who chuckle at the "death" of the Occupy Movement aren't reflecting on just how much awareness they raised about inequality in this country. It's part of our political vernacular and has about as much chance of going away as the words "bloated and ineffective" being used in juxtaposition with "government."

And they remained true to their vision and did not sell out to corporate interests unlike the Tea Party. I certainly thought they would so I was clearly wrong on that one. My chief frustration with them still remains their insistence that physical protesting in the age of social media is still relevant. It isn't. If they want to truly "occupy," something, it should be the next version of Twitter or Instagram. That would get people's attention.

How about an Occupy App? :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Here's an interesting piece from a few weeks ago about the Occupy Movement. While they may appear to have fallen off the map (at least according to the bigger media outlets), stories like this pop up all the time.

“Many participants had a personal connection to the economic crisis that helped spur the Occupy movement,” said Ruth Milkman, sociology professor and co-author of the study, in a release. “You had people graduating from high school and college, only to find that the economy wasn’t working for them.” Professor Milkman, and two other professors, Stephanie Luce, and Penny Lewis, interviewed 729 protesters during last year's May Day events, and conducted longer interviews with 25 people "who were core activists in the movement."

I see this movement perhaps morphing into a student loan/student debt advocacy group. I also give them credit for not making specific demands and staying true to their vision. My only beef remains with the physical occupation meme but it appears that their web site may be changing that.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Still Not So Much

Remember how the whole one percent-ninety nine percent narrative was dying? Or dead? Yeah, still not so much. Take a look at this photo that I snapped near my house.

Safe? Safe from what exactly? Financial sector guys running an anti-Wall Street ad to get people to invest...I love it!

And their company name isn't bad either:)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Still Not Dead Yet Narrative

The numbers are in on how many people ditched their banks last November and, I have to say, it's pretty impressive. Over 5 million people switched from the big banks to local and community banks and credit unions. Around 600,00 said it was because of Bank Transfer Day. Increased fees were cited as the main reason for people leaving their banks.

“Banks are facing difficult times on multiple fronts: Profits are being squeezed, regulators are more demanding, foreclosures remain problematic, and consumers are fighting back on fees. On top of all this, many banks are losing customers, including defections prompted by grassroots efforts like the recent Bank Transfer Day," ACSI founder Claes Fornell said.

The Occupy camps may be closed down but the banks are still feeling the effects of the movement and, honestly, I think it's going to be permanent. People aren't looking all that kindly at Wall Street and the big banks these days and it's likely going to stay that way.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Last Night's Surprise

It was caucus night last night in my home state and I'm happy to report that my group unanimously supported President Obama in his re-election bid. We also vowed to defeat the gay marriage ban amendment in Minnesota as well as the voter ID law. Our caucus included a man who recently gained his US citizenship after moving here from Kenya (chuckle, chuckle). He was elected our associate chair of the caucus and will be going on to the Senate District convention as a delegate.

I also found out that I might be redistricted into Keith Ellison's district. Goodbye Erik Paulsen and hello someone who actually represents me and my interests. I'll find out soon if that's going to happen.

After listening to Rick Santorum's victory speech last night (and after I spent a significant amount of time scratching my head in bewilderment that people think this guy would make a competent president only to come to the conclusion that this is what happens when you believe instead of think), I'm curious, once again, about this Barack Obama of whom he spoke. Not anyone that exists in reality. Here are some of his quotes from last night, on President Obama.

But then again, I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't listening. Why would you think he would be listening now? Has he ever listened to the voice of America before? 

Yes, he does Rick, but it's the majority of the citizens of this country who live in reality. Not the ones that live in the bubble with you and the rest of the apocalyptic cult.

When it came to the problems that were being confronted on Obamacare, when the health care system in this country, did President Obama, when he was pushing forward his radical health care ideas, listen to the American people?

Radical health care ideas...that came from the Republican party.

When it comes to the environment, did the president of the United States listen to the American people, or did he push a radical cap- and-trade agenda that would crush the energy and manufacturing sector of the economy?

Yes, radical, like when he approved off shore drilling only to see it completely bite him in the ass when BP flooded the Gulf of Mexico with oil.

He did say one thing that was pretty interesting, though.

Because I do care about not 99 percent or 95 percent. I care about the very rich and the very poor. I care about 100 percent of America.

(Ahem) Narrative still not dead.

As I watched Santorum's speech, inspiration struck me! If you look down at the labels, you will see a new one called "Fictional Obama." When a GOP candidate says something about the president that is a complete lie or obviously outside of reality, I'm going to put up the quote and illustrate how completely insane it is. Obviously, I won't do this every time this happens as I only have so much time during the day:)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Family Meal

By today's standards, my family is strange and quite odd. Every night, we sit down and have a family meal. ALL of us. Occasionally some sort of activity may interfere but we seem to always be able to adjust our individual schedules to be able to all sit down together and share time together over dinner.

We go around the table and share what our favorite part of the day was and that usually ends up leading to a broader discussion. We laugh, we work out problems, and we make plans for upcoming events. When I tell people this, virtually all of them can't believe that it happens. Whether they are conservative or liberal or somewhere in between, their comments invariably lead to the same question.

"Where do you find the time?"

I thought about our family meal when I read Niall Ferguson's recent piece "Rich America, Poor America." His thoughts and comments contained therein reveal a much needed alternative to the left's explanation and protestations regarding inequality in this country.

He starts out by detailing the obvious truth.

Adjusted for inflation, the income of the average American male has essentially flatlined since the 1970s, according to figures from the Census Bureau. The income of the bottom quarter of U.S. families has actually fallen. It’s been a different story for the rich. According to recent work by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the share of total income going to the top 1 percent of families has more than doubled since 1979, from below 10 percent to a peak of nearly 24 percent in 2007. (It has since fallen, but not by much.) The share going to the super-rich—the top 0.01 percent—has risen by a factor of seven.

Americans used to be proud of their country’s reputation as a meritocracy, where anyone could aspire to get to the top with the right combination of inspiration and perspiration. It’s no longer true. Social mobility has been sliding in the United States. A poor kid in America now has about the same chance of becoming a rich grown-up as in socially rigid England. It looks like Downton Abbey has come to downtown U.S.A.

I'm very pleased that someone who identifies as a conservative can recognize this as fact. Looking at the work of Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, we see further evidence of this acceptance by the right.

Murray is no apologist for Wall Street. Looking at the explosion in the value of the total compensation received by the chief executives of large corporations, he pointedly asks if “the boards of directors of corporate America—and nonprofit America, and foundation America—[have] become cozy extended families, scratching each others’ backs, happily going along with a market that has become lucrative for all of them, taking advantage of their privileged positions—rigging the game, but within the law.” There is not much in those lines that the OWS protesters would disagree with.

Rigging the game, but within the law. That's pretty much it and this simple sentence offers an area of ideological overlap between the Tea Party and the OWS movement. Sadly, I doubt that either will take advantage of it especially now that the Tea Party has been more or less co-opted by the Koch Brothers and the rest of the "cozy family" of which Murray speaks.

So, now that we have accepted the problem, how did we get here? Where Murray goes next offers a greater width of vision that I think is somewhat lacking on the left. Murray looks at two towns (Belmont and Fishtown) and compares social trends.

Marriage has declined in both, but it has declined further in Fishtown, where a much larger proportion of adults either get divorced or never marry, so that a far higher share of Fishtown children now live with a lone divorced or separated parent. Unlike Belmont, Fishtown has a sad underclass of “never-married mothers”—who also happen to be the worst-educated women in town.

I have many students in my classes that are "from Fishtown." They are the worst behaved and invariably get the worse grades. Their parents are either exhausted from work or terribly lazy. For whatever reason, they are COP (checked out parents) and the results are lower test scores and a continued feeding of the underclass. Murray speaks of this as well.

Industriousness has scarcely declined in Belmont, but it has plummeted among Fishtown white males, an amazing number of whom are unable to work because of illness or disability, or have left the workforce for some other reason, or are unemployed, or are working fewer than 40 hours a week. The big problem here is not so much a lack of jobs as a new leisure preference (“goofing off” and watching daytime TV). The work ethic has been replaced by a jerk ethic.

I'd actually take this a step further. The "jerk ethic" is there even with people that put in 40 hours of work a week or more. Rather than spend time with their family, many of these parents play video games or wank on their smart phones all night, further detaching themselves from their children's lives. Later in the article, Ferguson mentions a lack of incentive to work (due, of course, to the government but I'll get to that in a little bit) but even the folks that are working full time and providing for their families have a lack of incentive to do little else. People simply aren't active in their communities any longer.

Religiosity has declined in both towns, but much more steeply in Fishtown. Contrary to popular belief, Murray argues, it’s not the elites who have become secularized and the working class that has remained devout. In fact, church attendance is much lower in Fishtown than in Belmont.

Most of you know that I would never behave like many on the right who seek to insert themselves between an individual and the Lord, forcing Republican Jesus on the citizens of the United States. Having some sort of religious outlet, whatever faith that may be, is demonstrably vital to social cohesion. Murray's studies show that this is unequivocally true.

To put all of this simply, it's family values. And the results are plain for anyone to see.

As a consequence of these trends, the traditional bonds of civil society have entirely atrophied in lower-class America. There is less neighborliness, less trust, less political awareness, less of that vibrant civic engagement that used to impress European visitors, less of what the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, called “social capital.”

And that, Murray concludes, is why poor Americans are, by their own admission, so very unhappy. Man is a social animal who can only really be happy in four social domains: family, work, local community, and faith. In poor America, all four are in a state of collapse. That is why “Fishtown” is such a wretched dump—the kind of benighted place where gangs of feral teens hang around on street corners trying to figure out what part of the local infrastructure they haven’t yet vandalized. We all drive through such places from time to time. Murray’s point is just how many Americans have to live in them.

All of this ties in to what I talked about in The Michael Jordan Generation. The four domains listed above are essentially the same as four of the five main areas of socialization which have been severely eroded by the corporate owned media. Far too many people have allowed themselves and their children to lose touch with these four pillars and have been completely overwhelmed by the fifth. This is where Murray and Ferguson lose sight of the cause of all this. Sadly, they fall back on all to predictable conservative dogma, blame liberal policies, add to the fictional Obama narrative, and offer the usual panic rip about our country becoming like Europe. In other words, it's all the fault of the government...even though it was this same governemnt that created Social Security which has reduced poverty in the elderly by over 40 percent.

One can only blame our society's institutions so much (and that includes the corporate owned media). For me, it comes down to how you answer the question posed above by nearly everyone I know.

"Where do you find the time?"

It's simple.

You make the time.

In the final analysis, it's up to us.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, December 23, 2011

In the Zeitgeist

Making folks on the right blow a bowel is a pretty easy thing these days. But, boy oh boy, did a big one explode after this came out.

Time's Person of the Year was The Protester.

They spent most of the last few months trying to shift the narrative away from what is clearly a losing battle for them (inequality). It's a real stinker largely because it's true.

And it's obviously resonated with people. There is very little doubt in my mind that this will be the center issue of the election next year and is now part of the zeitgeist.

But if you read the article more closely you will see that it's not just the 99 percenters that are highlighted. This is an international movement of people with various concerns that have realized that they still have a voice. A Facebook page literally changed the government in Egypt. Libya has a new government. Syria won't be far behind.

All in all, this is a good thing. Change is tough for folks on the right and they don't like to bend much. Yet, as the tide turns, I think many of them are going to realize that if our country is going to remain significant in the world, we are going to have to address the issue of inequality. I'm not a huge fan of Larry Summers and it's fairly clear he had a hand in the Economic Collapse of 2008 but his recent piece in the Washington Post is an excellent primer on how to combat our rising inequality.I'll be talking more about this in the coming weeks as I break out each point and discuss whether or not it's feasible.

In the meantime, well done, people of the Earth. You shouted and now our leaders have to listen.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The .1 Percent

"...uncertainty. As a small business owner..."

were the first words I heard when I flipped on NPR the other day. The caller was a guy named Steve and my ears waited for the inevitable rip on the president. Instead, this is is what I heard.

"The federal government, and I mean all of them but most specifically Congress, needs to let me know what they are going to do. See, I'm part of the 1 percent who they are calling the job creators and I have no problem if they raise my taxes. I can afford it. But where I am uncertain is if I hire more people, will I get a tax break? If they came to me and said, "Hire more people and we will give you a tax break," then I would at least be able to adjust and calculate what I'm going to need if they do raise taxes."

We then found out that Steve had three small businesses and made millions a year. So, the uncertainty for him was simply a matter of figuring out his balance sheet which, quite honestly, is all the rest of us do. It made me wonder how many of the 1 percent who were uncertain would also be willing to pay more in taxes.

Then Steve said something that the 99 percenters and occupiers should understand.

"It's not the 1 percent that are the problem. It's the .1 percent. People that are with me in the other 9/10ths of 1 percent are doctors, lawyers, and wealthy small business owners. We have the same issues that most Americans have with money. We just have more of it. What we do adds to our society in the way of jobs and economic growth. But the .1 percent? That's the people on Wall Street with whom I invest my money. All they do is move money around. They add no value to society whatsoever. "

And there it is. It's not the one percent. It's the .1 percent. They are the ones that are really the problem right now and they always have been. These are the folks that nearly ruined our economy 3 years ago and that have, more or less, created a Wall Street government. People like Steve got fucked over by them just like we did.

In a recent column, Paul Krugman echoed this sentiment with some interesting numbers.

The recent Congressional Budget Office report on inequality didn’t look inside the top 1 percent, but an earlier report, which only went up to 2005, did. According to that report, between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of Americans in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. The equivalent number for the richest 0.1 percent rose 400 percent.

For the most part, these huge gains reflected a dramatic rise in the super-elite’s share of pretax income. But there were also large tax cuts favoring the wealthy. In particular, taxes on capital gains are much lower than they were in 1979 — and the richest one-thousandth of Americans account for half of all income from capital gains.

Clearly, there's gross inequality within the 1 percent as well. So is Steve right about who makes up the .1 percent?

For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.

Not all in the financial sector but certainly not the "job creators" that we hear about all the time.

I took a lot away from Steve's call. I think it was important to hear from someone who is indeed a job creator and would happily pay more in taxes if the federal government would get its shit together. Based on the poll numbers and Steve's call, it appears as if most of the blame is being laid at the feet of Congress.

Will the American people let them know what they think next November?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Occupy! Trifecta

Three stories today about the OWS movement that I found interesting...

First, apparently someone in the OWS movement is reading this blog. Both Nikto and I agree that the time to stand around a park is over. It seems they are transitioning away from this and into a legitimate social movement. Good deal!

Sadly, though, this article illustrates my chief criticism of the movement.

Despite the strategizing under way in the Occupy Wall Street office space, no one in the movement can say where it will be in six months.

As for a clear set of goals, Goldberg said, “It would be wonderful if the media stopped looking for demands because I think you will be unsatisfied."

He added, "Many of us in the movement don’t want a list of demands because that is empowering someone else to create a change for us.”

Goldberg said he and the others are creating change from the bottom up in their leaderless movement.

“It’s the core of who we are, which is a decentralized, people-driven process," Carey added.

Funny, that sounds almost (gasp!) libertarian, right?

To me, though, they still lack a focus and thankfully, I'm not the only one.

Asking Occupy protesters what, exactly, they would do to reform government and the financial system is a loaded question and a source of internal conflict. Collinge, 41, of Tacoma, Wash., said he has unsuccessfully lobbied Occupy's general assembly meetings in New York to develop a strong platform.

"They should come up with a short-term list of no-brainer agenda items," said Collinge, wearing a huge sign in the rain at New York's Zuccotti Park calling for student loan reforms.

Collinge has his list ready. Return bankruptcy protection to student loans. Bring back banking reform regulations that were removed from the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act. End corporate personhood.

Absofuckinglutely. The Occupy movement has entered the zeitgeist of the world now and is not going away. For the first time, the political left is driving the conversation and the right is being forced to respond (more on that in a moment). They've successfully been able to create a populist movement around concepts such as the "99 percent" and the "1 percent." People from all areas of life are responding to this positively because...well...they are the 99 percent!

But the ambiguity sans action won't be enough to bring about any real change. This is where I agree with Collinge and it's not surprising really considering he is in my age cohort. There needs to be a focus around the three issues he lists above and each needs to be followed up with action. I'm not sure how this is going to happen considering the OWS folks trust the government about as much as the Tea Party does.

For a group that has "lost the narrative," they sure are making the right nervous. Why all the fuss if that is indeed the case? Here are a few of my favorites from Luntz.

1. Don't say 'capitalism.' "I'm trying to get that word removed and we're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market,' " Luntz said. "The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral.And if we're seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we've got a problem."

Yeah, you do. Because the American public knows who caused our economic problems. Of course, capitalism isn't immoral...what has been done to it, however, IS.

6. Don't ever say you're willing to 'compromise.' "If you talk about 'compromise,' they'll say you're selling out. Your side doesn't want you to 'compromise.' What you use in that to replace it with is 'cooperation.' It means the same thing. But cooperation means you stick to your principles but still get the job done. Compromise says that you're selling out those principles."

Like I needed a pollster to tell me that!

7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: 'I get it.'"First off, here are three words for you all: 'I get it.' . . . 'I get that you're angry. I get that you've seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system." Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

Let's see if any of them can actually do this because it involves being empathetic. I doubt it.

The simple fact that they are getting this involved in how they talk about this movement tells me that: a) the talk of the narrative being lost is ridiculously wrong and b) they're nervous.


Oh, Really?

Occupy Economics from Softbox on Vimeo.

So much for losing the narrative...