Monday, October 31, 2011

You Have "Rights" Until You Exercise Them

In America they pound their chests over their democracy and their political "liberty" and all the "rights" their citizens have. But from my perspective all I can see is that you have the right to cut your own throat, to lose your job, and to have your children starve. Those aren't the rights that were written up in the Constitution, but those are the "rights" given to ordinary people -- but not the billionaires who can buy rights as they please -- in contemporary American society.

The response of the "free" media in the US to Occupy Wall Street makes this utterly obvious...

First, here is an Atlantic Wire story about Lisa Simeone:
With yesterday's news that Lisa Simeone was fired from her one radio gig but retained at her other, we now have word on what exactly both radio shows were thinking when they made their decision. Simeone was canned as host of Soundprint, a documentary show, after it came to light that she participated in the Occupy D.C. protests, but she's keeping her hosting duties at her other show aired on NPR, World of Opera, as the two shows are produced by different companies. Maryland-based Soundprint Media Center, which produces Soundprint but is not part of NPR, said Simeone's participation in the protest clearly violated NPR ethics code, which the company adopted for itself because "listeners don't know the difference between NPR and independent producers across the country," the AP reports. Moira Rankin, the president of Soundprint, clarifies the company's decision in the report:
In my mind, it's fine if you want to be a leader of an organized protest movement, but you can't also be in a journalistic role. You can't be the host of a journalism program and plead that you are different than the reporter who is going to come on a minute after you introduce the program.
However, World of Opera, distributed nationally by NPR, is produced by WDAV, a classical-music radio station in North Carolina, and it doesn't see any conflict of interest where Soundprint does. "Ms. Simeone's activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV's employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance," a station spokesperson wrote in an email to the AP. Interestingly, although the national network itself "questioned" Simeone's activism, saying that its code of ethics applies to cultural radio shows like hers, NPR is emphasizing that it can't take action against someone it doesn't employ. "We are not her employer, but she is a host for a show that we distribute," an NPR spokesperson told the AP. "She's a public person who represents NPR and public radio."

For the record, Simeone defends her choice to protest here:
I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen -- the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly -- on my own time in my own life. I'm not an NPR employee. I'm a freelancer. NPR doesn't pay me. I'm also not a news reporter. I don't cover politics. I've never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I've done for NPR World of Opera. What is NPR afraid I'll do -- insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?
Second, here is an Atlantic Wire story about Caitlin E. Curran:
The people who make shows for NPR stations, dinged by the perception that they're a bunch of kneejerk liberals, are proving themselves to be very, very touchy about how their employees participate with Occupy Wall Street. Today, Gawker has posted the first-hand account of Caitlin E. Curran, a Brooklyn-based former freelancer for The Takeaway, which is co-produced by NPR-member station WNYC and Public Radio International, who was fired from her public radio gig as a part-time web producer after her boss discovered she (briefly) participated in an Occupy protest.

Update 2: We've added WNYC's response below, in which the station says Curran was fired because, "When Ms. Curran made the decision to participate in the protest and make herself part of the story, she violated our editorial standards."

Update: We initially used "NPR" in the headline for this story which is incorrect because the show The Takeaway is more identified with NPR competitor PRI even though it airs alongside NPR programming. We've corrected the error, but there's also this point to make: the public radio economy contains many independent actors alongside NPR. There is the national organization, local broadcasters, independent producers and distributors all involved in programming on what listeners would consider "NPR stations." So, while NPR is not a centralized organization that controls all of public radio, the "NPR is liberal" critics are prone to paint with a broad brush. If anything, Curran's story illustrate how far the fear of looking too liberal has permeated the entire public radio ecosystem.

Curran was canned after her boss found the now-famous photo of her (right) holding a sign with paraphrased text from The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, from his post on the Occupy movement. She chronicles what happened after that in her post:
My boyfriend, Will, and I decided to take Friedersdorf's words and use them, perhaps more literally than he intended. We printed them out, taped them to poster board, and headed to the Occupy Wall Street march in Times Square, on October 15. The plan was for Will to hold the sign, and for me to observe what happened and post reports to my personal Twitter account ... But, inevitably, Will developed sign-holding fatigue, and I took over momentarily.
That's when a photographer snapped the Occupy picture reblogged 'round the world. So she decided that all of this notoriety would make for great radio, so he pitched a segment idea on her experience on The Takeaway. But a day later, she got the boot from The Takeaway, which said she "violated every ethic of journalism," according to Curran. All this of course echoes the firing of Lisa Simeone after she was found to be working as a spokesperson for Occupy D.C. Curran, like Simeone, offered a defense of her actions on Gawker:

My thinking ran along the same lines as Simeone's. It's unclear to me how our participation, on our personal time, in a non-partisan movement warrants termination from our jobs. If the protest is so lacking, in terms of message and focus, then how can my involvement with it go against The Takeaway's ethical policies? In other words, if I'm associated with a party-less movement (and barely associated, since that was only the second time I've attended an Occupy Wall Street event), and have never exercised bias in editing The Takeaway's website, what's the harm?

Here is the full statement from WNYC spokesperson Jennifer Houlihan:
Caitlin Curran was a freelance news producer for The Takeaway, a morning news program co-produced by WNYC and Public Radio International (PRI). In that capacity she was expected to observe the general standards of journalistic practice and more specifically WNYC's editorial guidelines which require that editorial employees be free of any conflict that might compromise the work of the show overall. The Takeaway has covered the Occupy Wall Street story since its beginning through active reporting on the protests and the positive and negative responses to those events. When Ms. Curran made the decision to participate in the protest and make herself part of the story, she violated our editorial standards. At that time the program made the decision to no longer use her services as part of the production team.
It is lovely to have liberties that are purely theoretical. It is ridiculous to have rights that can only exist in your mind and never be acted upon. But that is "democracy" in America, the land of the "free", home of the "brave", where lollipops hang from the trees and the bastard billionaires dance across the landscape dressed as sugar plum fairies assuring everybody that if they get just "one more tax cut" then they will create jobs for everyone!

The Credo of a Pro-99% Person

I enjoy following many blogs. One of this is Myrmecos by Alex Wild. It specializes in ants and photography and insects. But today he posted a bit of musing on the political future of the US. This is well worth reading:
Why I support the 99% movement

by myrmecos

Paraguay is the second poorest country in South America. You’d never know it from visiting some neighborhoods in the capital city of Asunción, though. Shiny new SUVs cruise the streets between the golf course and the yacht club. Boutique malls sell the latest in European fashion. Not a bad country for enjoying the good life.

I lived in Paraguay for a time in the late 1990s, but not anywhere near the country club. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a dusty frontier community 100 miles off the paved road. With a government salary of $220/month I was the wealthiest person on my street. My neighbors, for comparison, had 11 children and somehow made do on about $400/year they made selling tobacco to a local distributor and onions in the nearby village. Many small farmers subsisted in the short term on bank credit, a sort of debt servitude that, carried out over years, funneled resources out of the community and upward to the elite. In the long term, some eventually lost their land and migrated to the city where I lost track of them. The slums were always growing around Asunción’s outskirts.

Most of the land was owned by only 350 people, according to a newspaper article in 1998. This statistic startled me, and explained a great deal of Paraguay’s dysfunction. 350 was half the size of my high school graduating class! The country was being run by an exclusive club of millionaires that all knew each other and, for the most part, didn’t pay much attention to the poor folks.

Paraguay was ostensibly a democracy, a 1989 coup having deposed a long-standing dictator. But the elections remained theater. A few rival millionaires would emerge from their mansions long enough to film TV spots featuring them bravely clearing brush at the ranch riding about on horseback looking folksy. To remove any remaining doubt about their populist roots, they would then toss a few bribes to the voters the week of the election. My community at the forest’s edge got free chainsaws. Thanks, General Oviedo!

In spite of the country’s political corruption, I am fond of Paraguay. The people are friendly, the natural history is rich, and the climate warm and forgiving. After my tour was up, I considered starting up a beekeeping operation and staying in country. After all, I calculated that I only needed about 30 hives to sustain a basic campo lifestyle.

In the end, though, I decided against it. The crime rate was phenomenally high, the ambient poverty depressing, and as an outsider the pervasive corruption certainly didn’t work in my favor. The society simply did not function well, and although it contained great charm it was too often punctuated by avoidable tragedy.

Mostly, I never had the security I felt in the middle class in the United States. In fact, Paraguay didn’t have much of a middle class. The wealthy were wealthy, the poor were poor, and any social mobility tended to be downwards.

Paraguay has natural resources: fertile soil, navigable rivers, and a pair of world-class hydroelectric projects. But the wealth never spreads beyond the aristocracy. The powerful have little incentive to run the country to benefit anyone but themselves. Income inequality was not just a problem, it was the single biggest obstacle to any sort of improvement to the lives of the populace.

It didn’t matter if you wanted to implement a liberal program, or a conservative program, or to regulate, or to deregulate. Ideology didn’t even really matter. If the aristocrats could make money, it would happen. If it would cost them money, it wouldn’t. Unless their family was involved. They’d fire competent staff to replace them with a nephew. If you knew the right people you wouldn’t have to work hard; if you didn’t you were basically stuck. If the powers that be didn’t like a new law, it’d never be enforced. If, heaven forbid, a rivalry among the aristocrats escalated, someone got killed. Paraguayan government was corruption in near-textbook purity, and the scam was all possible because the immense resource gap between the rich and the masses meant no one from within the system could challenge it.

Now, back to the United States.

I am not enjoying watching my own country develop the same internal dynamic that corroded the heart of Paraguayan society. As power and wealth concentrate upwards, the ability of a democracy to function in the interests of its people falters. Forget free markets, or single-payer health care, or whatever your hobby horse happens to be. None of it- left, right, or center- will happen once corruption becomes endemic. And corruption is a major product of wealth disparity.

This is why I support the 99% & Occupy movements. At long last they’ve gotten Americans talking about our nascent Aristocracy. I love Paraguay, but if I wanted to live in that sort of system I’d rather move back there than grow a banana republic at home.
I love the snide put-down of Bush and is "brush clearing" preoccupation while president of the US. He and all the multi-millionaire rulers of America have created the problem by letting the middle class collapse in favour of their billionaire buddies.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rogue Police

In theory the police are agents of the people, their job is to "serve and protect" their community. But for some, the rogue elements among the police, those with a pathological thuggish personality, this becomes a "license to kill". Here is an example:

And this:

Sadly, the police argue that this was "justified force" and the responsible thugs were given only the lightest of wrist slaps. Why?

The violence of white collar crime, the Wall Street banks have thrown 25 million people out of work and foreclosed on 10 million home owners as part of a fraudulent crime spree. The violence of these perpetrators has not resulted in a single arrest or the thuggish police assaulting any of the "suits" of Wall Street. But if you stand in the streets to protest that your country has gone off the rails and that authorities are not doing their sworn duty to uphold the law, you are pepper sprayed and targeted by canisters of exploding tear gas. Go figure.

Krugman on "Weaponized Keynesianism"

Here is the key bit from a post by Paul Krugman on his NY Times blog:
And the evidence clearly shows that weaponized Keynesianism works – which means that Keynesianism in general works.

So why do politicians and their hired economic propagandists say differently? On reflection, I think it’s a bit more complicated than I suggested in my previous post on this topic, because there’s a strong element of cynicism as well as genuine intellectual confusion.

What kind of cynicism am I talking about? First, there’s the general fear on the part of conservatives that if you admit that the government can do anything useful other than fighting wars, you open the door to do-gooding in general; that explains why conservatives have always seen Keynesianism as a dangerous leftist doctrine even though that makes no sense in terms of the theory’s actual content. On top of that there’s the Kalecki point that admitting that the government can create jobs undermines demands that policies be framed to cater to all-important business confidence.

That said, there’s also the Keynes/coalmines point: there’s a strong tendency to take any spending that looks like a business proposition – building bridges or tunnels, supporting solar energy or mass transit – and demanding that it appear to be a sound investment in terms of its financial return. This makes most such spending look bad, since almost by definition a depressed economy is one in which businesses aren’t seeing good reasons to invest. Defense gets exempted because nobody expects bombs to be a good business proposition.

The moral here should be that spending to promote employment in a depressed economy should not be viewed as something that has to generate a good financial return; in effect, most of the resources being used are in reality free.

I wonder if we’ll ever have a political system mature enough to understand this.
The political right in the US has gone beyond simply proposing bad policies, it is actively destroying the country. That people vote for a political party whose agenda is to destroy the country seems unreal, but that's exactly what the Germans did in 1932 when they voted the Nazis into a plurality position. The average German voting for the Nazi party obviously didn't think it was a vote for six years of war and the utter destruction of his country, but in effect that was the political effect of his vote. Similarly Americans who vote for the Republican party may not think they are voting for the destruction of their country, but in effect their votes enable political radicals to take obstructionists positions that are literally destroying the US.

The current Republican party is to the right of McCarthyism and the 1960s John Birch Society. It is a party of fanatics and radicals intent on destroying America. Sadly, the electorate is unable to think through the political confetti on offer by that party and see the reality behind it. Similarly the Germans didn't see through the strong "nationalist" ranting of the Nazis to realize they were electing a government intent on absolutely destroying their country, a party capable of crimes against humanity of unspeakable dimensions and a party whose leader who would demand, as he prepared for his own suicide, that Germans "fight to the last man" and utterly, utterly destroy their country in an insane war for a political party that was corrupt and vicious and determined to go down in bloody defeat. A political party completely unwilling to compromise with political rivals and intent on policies that superficially called for "the greater good of Germany" but which, by attacking all of its neighbors, was singularly intent on committing political suicide.

But the German people voted in that party.

And the Americans have learned nothing from history.

Stopgaps and Half Measures

Here is a bit from an article in the NY Magazine on the rising inequality in the US and the failure of policy makers to either admit the problem exists or come up with any policy to effectively deal with the problem. The Republicans deny it exists and the Democrats are willing only to propose partial remedies:
Over the last few decades, income growth for most Americans has slowed to a crawl, while income for the very rich has exploded. That’s a reversal of the three decades following World War II, when all income groups got richer, with the poor and middle class rising at a faster rate than the rich. Crucially, the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis shows that changes in government policy over this period have made inequality worse. (In CBO-speak: “The equalizing effect of transfers and taxes on household income was smaller in 2007 than it had been in 1979.”)

We’re not having a debate about how to reverse or even stop the growth of inequality. Nobody has a real plan to do that. The Democratic plan is to slightly arrest the growth of inequality by hiking taxes on the rich a few percentage points, so as to minimize the need to cut the social safety net. The Republican plan is to slash taxes for the rich and programs for the poor, thereby massively increasing inequality.

That is a hard position to defend in the context of exploding inequality, and conservatives would rather not defend it. Instead the right’s response has been to persistently deny or ignore the facts. Rick Perry, pressed by a reporter to explain why he was proposing a tax plan that would widen income inequality further, replied, "I don’t care about that." The Wall Street Journal editorial page today dismissed the Tax Policy Center, whose calculations persistently show the ways in which various Republican tax proposals would widen inequality, as “liberal.” It didn’t even pretend to dispute the substance of the calculations. Eric Cantor gave a speech about income inequality centering on stories about how his grandmother worked hard and pulled herself up by the bootstraps in the old days. It was a nice speech if you like stories about plucky grandmothers. It failed to grasp the central dilemma, which is that it was a lot easier for poor people to move up sixty years ago, when tax rates on the rich happened to be far higher, than it is today.


The way to understand Ryan is that he’s deeply influenced by the theories of Ayn Rand, who believed that the root of all evil lay in attempts to alter the wealth distribution created by the free marketplace. Rand may have been a deranged cult leader, but she did live at a time when the fear of the poor devouring the rich had an actual real-world basis. She escaped communist Russia for the United States, Franklin Roosevelt — while not a reprise of the communists, as she mistakenly believed — really did denounce the rich and impose confiscatory tax rates. The world of Rand’s imagination bore a slight resemblance to the world she inhabited, but it bears no resemblance to the contemporary United States.

Ryan cannot process the realities of this world because they are so at odds with the imagined world of his ideology. After his speech, he was asked about the CBO’s report on inequality, and he brushed it off, falling back on Rand-esque lingo the virtuous rich (“takers”) and parasitic poor (“makers”):
“Let’s not focus on redistribution, let’s focus on upward mobility,” he said. “If these studies are used as justification for erecting new and more barriers for making it harder for people to rise, all that will do is reduce our prosperity in this country.”

“We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition.
Don’t confuse Paul Ryan with the facts. If studies run up against Ryan’s ideology, then the studies must give way.
Sadly, the politics in America a deeply dysfunctional. No major party is addressing the concerns of the 99% so clearly visible in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Playing as Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of Louis XVI, loved to play the peasant with a cute little pastoral setup on the grounds of Versaille.

The modern equivalent is this cozy little Halloween costume party by a big foreclosure firm where the overpaid staff got to dress as homeless people. From an article by Joe Nocera in the NY Times:
On Friday, the law firm of Steven J. Baum threw a Halloween party. The firm, which is located near Buffalo, is what is commonly referred to as a “foreclosure mill” firm, meaning it represents banks and mortgage servicers as they attempt to foreclose on homeowners and evict them from their homes. Steven J. Baum is, in fact, the largest such firm in New York; it represents virtually all the giant mortgage lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

The party is the firm’s big annual bash. Employees wear Halloween costumes to the office, where they party until around noon, and then return to work, still in costume. I can’t tell you how people dressed for this year’s party, but I can tell you about last year’s.

That’s because a former employee of Steven J. Baum recently sent me snapshots of last year’s party. In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.

When we spoke later, she added that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose. I told her I wanted to post the photos on The Times’s Web site so that readers could see them. She agreed, but asked to remain anonymous because she said she fears retaliation.


These pictures are hardly the first piece of evidence that the Baum firm treats homeowners shabbily — or that it uses dubious legal practices to do so. It is under investigation by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. It recently agreed to pay $2 million to resolve an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether the firm had “filed misleading pleadings, affidavits, and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts in New York.” (In the press release announcing the settlement, Baum acknowledged only that “it occasionally made inadvertent errors.”)
Go look at the rich people pretending to be poor and homeless. What fun! By day you can dispossess people and by night party pretending to be the victims of your day job!

Why is America going to hell in a handbasket? Because it has lost its moral compass. The rich have gobbled up everything including the morality of the society.

America Looks at Itself in the Mirror

And it should not be happy with what it sees...

At least Umair Haque finds the America he lives in to be less that all it is billed to be.

Here is a bit from a post on his Harvard Business Review blog:
Consider this thought experiment. If you were really, really, really rich — say, not just part of the routinely opulent 1%, but a card-carrying member of the eye-poppingly decadent .01% — what part of your life would be American? If you had the money, I'd bet you'd drive a German car, wear British shoes and an Italian suit, keep your savings in a Swiss bank, vacation in Koh Samui with shopping expeditions to Cannes, fly Emirates, develop a palate for South African wine, hire a French-trained chef, buy a few dozen Indian and Chinese companies, and pay Dubai-style taxes.

Were to you have the untrammeled economic freedom to, I'd bet you'd run screaming from big, fat, wheezing American business as usual, and its coterie of lackluster, slightly bizarre, and occasionally grody "innovations": spray cheese, ATM fees, designer diapers, disposable lowest-common-denominator junk made by prison labor, Muzak-filled big-box stores, five thousand channels and nothing on but endless reruns of Toddlers in Tiaras — not to mention toxic mega-debt, oxymoronic "healthcare," decrepit roads, and once-proud cities now crumbling into ruins. Sure, you'd probably still choose to use Google on your iPhone to surf the web — but that's about far as it'd go.

How did we get here?

The mightiest adversary that snaps great empires like twigs isn't chimerical "globalization" — it's glittering hubris, bedecked in the finery of denial. Hence, if the whispered rumors of our imminent decline are worth leaning in and listening to, then perhaps it's worth trying to diagnose the depth of the plunge and the slope of the cliff before we scrabble for a handhold.

If, as I've argued, we've got a bad case of Reality Deficit Disorder, then it might be time for a gentle reality check. Argue with me if you like, unleash the snarling dream team of Homeland Security, cable news, and Rick Perry's Hair on me if you want, but here's my hypothesis: today, America excels at mediocrity.

After decades of erasing the last luminous wisps of a once awe-inspiring excellence, today, it's perfected the art of imagining, designing, mega-financing, and mass-producing the tedious, humdrum, banal, middle of the road, bland, trivial, forgettable, the less than exhilarating — whose side effects may include unemployment, stagnation, insecurity, distrust, meaninglessness, depression, and dumbification. And it might be that all the preceding is what lurching machine age "markets", "corporations", "finance" and "profit" optimize an economy for — and further, what they shape the minds of a people to come to expect as the limit of the possible (until, of course, a metamovement reminds them that it's not).

Let me be clear. I speak not merely of America's structural current account deficit, sagging trade balance, or dearth of exports — but the possibility that America's greatest export might be the furious pursuit of mediocrity: a set of self-destructive expectations and preferences that, having not been good enough for America — having reduced the people formerly known as the middle class to penury, having rotted Baltimore and Detroit into cities that are beginning to resemble Kabul and Peshawar — probably won't be good enough for the world. Should the world cotton onto the not-so-happy ending of the story of dumb, opulence-driven McGrowth, then that recognition might be the rocket fuel that sends an American decline into liftoff.
What I find amusing is the self denial. The US is well over the crest and is now clearly descending, but the faster it declines the more its politicians become strident about "America #1" and the people in America standing amidst their decaying cities, bankrupt, with one major political party clearly working hard to loot the store before the end comes, proclaiming their love for America "the city on the hill" and a place envied by all. That is the vision that Americans who have never traveled have of their country. But as Haque makes clear. If you have traveled and seen cleaner, better, newer, more functional places, it is depressing to come back to the rundown, dysfunctional, failing cities of America.

Amid all this decay the two political parties in the US compete in shouting declarations of loyalty, claims of "we are #1", and the certitude that America is a special place beloved by God. It is like those shiny American flag pins that are "must have" on every politician whether or not the suit is threadbare and literally falling off the politician. This is the "promise" of America that every politicians sells.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Keith Olbermann Takes Oakland's Mayor to Task

Olbermann starts out by praising Mayor Jean Quan's previous service to Oakland. It is an impressive list. But then he gets down to the horror that she unleashed by turning her police loose on peaceful protesters and makes it utterly, utterly clear the crime she has perpetrated by her actions. You must watch this video:

For a first person narrative by somebody on the ground in Oakland, read this article by Mike Godwin in
If you've been following the mainstream media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests, odds are that you've heard about events at Occupy Oakland. What you can't tell from the news clips is how the situation has played out for those of us who live here. I can't speak for everyone, but I do know that my reaction, both to the protestors and to the violent police interventions against them, is hardly an uncommon one.


The vibe where I was standing was tense. Occasionally an individual shouted at the arrayed police, “This is America! What are you doing here?” Or, “I can't believe you're doing this! We love you guys but what you're doing is wrong!” I didn't think it was a great idea to shout at the (silent but intent) array of police—it wasn't likely they were going to suddenly relent, and I knew they had been wearing heavy riot gear and carrying weapons (including astonishingly large batons) for six or more hours. My instinct was that it was not particularly safe to shout at tired men and women with weapons, no matter how righteous one's outrage is.


One guy passing me on the way downtown warned about tear gas. I spotted New York Times reporter Malia Wollan talking into her mobile—as she walked past I heard her describing the apparent effects of the gas on individuals exposed to it. Her account is available here.

Of the people headed toward me, I first thought a disproportionate number were bicyclists—only a few minutes later did I realize, embarrassingly, that there were other reasons for wearing a bicycle helmet that night. The tension in the crowd was palpably building so I decided it was time to head home. Keeping my distance turned out to have been wise, because this is what I missed getting caught up in:

I was also standing 50-100 feet south from where a police officer appears to have thrown a flash grenade into a crowd of people gathered to help 24-year-old Scott Olsen, who suffered massive head injuries after allegedly being struck by a tear gas canister.

I confess that it breaks my heart to watch this clip. If I had seen someone collapsed in the street, I'd have tried to help that person too. These people were apparently punished for their impulse to help.


I don’t know how to interpret everything I saw, and I can’t state with any authority what Occupy Oakland or any of the other protests ultimately mean. But I do know this: The millions of dollars California just spent on this crackdown did nothing to dispel or discourage the protestors. In fact, the police intervention has echoed around the world. Occupy Wall Street committed to sending $20,000 to Occupy Oakland and protestors as far away as Tahrir Square in Egypt have expressed their solidarity with the Oakland protestors.

History tends to happen when you least expect it, and my new neighbors have taken their first steps into its pages.
Go read the full article.

If you want to see the sympathy protest in Tahrir Square Egypt for the Occupy Oakland violence, here is a post on BoingBoing with pictures.

Here is political commentary in Wired magazine on the fallout from the police violence at Occupy Oakland:
But the police forces’ violent tactics worked only temporarily, and have, for the moment at least, handed the Occupy movement a moral and political victory so big that not even Occupy protestors seem to recognize it.

The nation, and even much of the world, seemed to recoil in shock from the images coming out of Oakland Tuesday night, where police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse unarmed protestors, who built a camp in the city as part of the nationwide protest against an unfair political and economic system.

Critically wounded Marine veteran Scott Olsen became a rallying point for Occupy, following widely seen footage of protestors trying to carry him to safety in the midst of a tear gas assault. There were other pictures and videos: streets littered with rubber bullets, people in wheelchairs trapped in the tear gas, and bloodied faces and bruised bodies of unarmed protestors.

On Wednesday, OccupyOakland’s fortunes reversed.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced that people could reoccupy Frank Ogawa plaza, renamed Oscar Grant plaza by the occupiers in honor of a black Oakland man shot to death by transit police in 2009. When people arrived for the General Assembly, the occupation’s standard open meeting, the grassy area of the plaza was fenced off. But through the course of the evening, and not without violent conflict among the occupiers, the fences came down.

People fought each other over the fences, pulling at each other, some linking arms to protect the fence, and screaming, all while the GA went on in the distance. Despite the fears of those attempting to protect the fence, no police moved in after it went down. The GA proceeded through the evening undisturbed by anything but news choppers overhead and a turn-out too big for the sound system to cover.

But word came in that an attack was imminent on OccupySF across the bay, and a large contingent moved to get on the BART transit to join San Francisco’s Occupiers in Justin Herman Plaza. But when they arrived at the station they found it closed; BART wasn’t letting the occupation on in Oakland, or letting people off at Embarcadero, the station closest to OccupySF.

The roused crowd took to the streets, marching down Broadway towards the police station. They met no resistance. The police stayed a block away on all sides, and melted back in front of the path of the crowd, directing traffic away from the protestor-filled streets of Downtown Oakland. Many protestors were looking for a confrontation with police, but found none — staying peaceful and well behaved, if boisterous and peripatetic. The only property damage I observed were a couple incidents of graffiti-tagging, of which only one was definitely attributable to the OccupyOakland march. There were no broken windows or even overturned trash bins, and police stayed largely out of sight for the evening.


During the slow, tweeted protestor pursuit of police, OccupySF drilled for a police raid, practicing locking arms around their camp and removing vital gear from the site. As the hours wore on, many tired occupiers became paranoid, and every bus or van that went by startled people and sent them into conspiratorial speculations. Some occupiers went around writing the National Lawyer’s guild phone number on the arms of occupiers who didn’t already have a lawyer.

Five members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, several running for mayor, arrived and used the people’s mic to address the occupiers. They stayed put for hours, and many occupiers credited them for preventing the police raid.

On Thursday, the SFPD stretched credulity by telling ABC Channel 7 that the whole thing was a training exercise, resulting in a sarcastic local news report regarding the whole event. At the same time, OccupySF posted a picture of a notice given to businesses around the occupation warning of “…increased activity by the SFPD in the immediate vicinity of One Market Plaza starting around this evening’s commute.”

In Oakland the occupation was returning Thursday, growing from one tent in the reclaimed area Wednesday night to eight tents. OccupyOakland is rebuilding against the background of a campaign to recall Mayor Quan, calls for OPD to be disciplined, solidarity marches around the country and the world, and the New York City GA’s consensus to devote 100 sleeping bags and $20,000 for legal and medical expenses to OccupyOakland.


Sheamus Collins, a bartender from Dublin, showed off his rubber bullet wound.

Click to Enlarge


No one seemed aware of how crushing their political victory in the last 24 hours had really been.

Get Ready for Another Big Bailout

Here is a bit from a post by Matt Taibbi in his Rolling Stone blog:
... when it comes to commercial banking, Bank of America is as bad as it gets.

The markets, of course, have lately come to agree, as B of A has lately been downgraded again to just above junk status. The only reason the bank is not rated even lower than that is that it is Too Big To Fail. The whole world knows that if Bank of America implodes – whether because of the vast number of fraud suits it faces for mortgage securitization practices, or because of the time bomb of toxic assets on its balance sheets – the U.S. government will probably step in to one degree or another and save it.

The government’s patronage of the bank was never clearer than in recent weeks, when B of A quietly decided to move trillions of dollars (trillions, not billions) in risky Merrill Lynch derivatives contracts off Merrill’s books and onto the books of the parent/retail arm, Bank of America.

This decision was done at the behest of counterparties to those transactions, who wanted those contracts placed under the aegis of Bank of America, whose deposits are insured by the FDIC. The move was made, according to reports, so that Bank of America could avoid posting $3.3 billion in collateral to satisfy the company’s creditors. In other words, Bank of America just got You the Taxpayer to co-sign as much as $53 trillion worth of dicey derivative contracts.

The FDIC wasn’t pleased by the move, but the Fed apparently encouraged it. Bloomberg, citing people with “direct knowledge” of the deals, reported that,
The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
So the primary regulator of the banking industry is encouraging a functionally insolvent megabank to respond to a credit downgrade by pushing its most explosively risky holdings onto the laps of the taxpayer.


A series of lawmakers on the Hill, including most notably Sherrod Brown, Carl Levin, and Bernie Sanders, are trying to figure out if there’s any way to stop this transaction, but of course there is not. Upstate NY congressman Maurice Hinchey put it best. "What Bank of America is doing is perfectly legal – and that's the problem,” he said.

This is exactly why the Glass-Steagall Act needs to be reinstated: without a separation of Investment Banks and Commercial Banks, what we end up getting is taxpayer-guaranteed gambling. Instead of encouraging prudence and savings by insuring deposits in commercial banks, the FDIC is now being turned into a vehicle for socializing speculative losses.

So our government is not only no longer encouraging fiscal conservatism, it is doing exactly the opposite, i.e. encouraging speculation and risk-taking. That this is happening in the fever of the OWS movement, and at a time when top politicians from Barack Obama on down are paying lip service to public complaints against Wall Street, should tell you everything you need to know about whether or not we can expect this government to voluntarily enact real changes, and stop making the taxpayer eat Wall Street’s pain.
This is criminal. The FDIC should refuse. But obviously the Obama administration is backing the Federal Reserve and allowing this abomination to go ahead. Shame on Barack Obama!

Bashing the Media

Here is a good tongue lashing in Slate for the idiotic mass media which claims it can't "understand the message" of the OWS movement:
I confess to being driven insane this past month by the spectacle of television pundits professing to be baffled by the meaning of Occupy Wall Street. Good grief. Isn’t the ability to read still a job requirement for a career in journalism? And as last week’s inane “What Do They Want?” meme morphs into this week’s craven “They Want Your Stuff” meme, I feel it’s time to explain something: Occupy Wall Street may not have laid out all of its demands in a perfectly cogent one-sentence bumper sticker for you, Mr. Pundit, but it knows precisely what it doesn’t want. It doesn’t want you.

What the movement clearly doesn’t want is to have to explain itself through corporate television. To which I answer, Hallelujah. You can’t talk down to a movement that won’t talk back to you.

I don’t purport to speak for anyone but myself here, although I spent time this weekend at Occupy Wall Street and my husband spent much of last week adding his voice to the protesters there. I saw an incredible array of people that defy any simple demographic characterization and a broad range of signs that made—imagine!—more than a single point. But if I may hazard an opinion, it would be this: One of the most fatuous themes of mainstream OWS coverage is the endless loop of media bafflement at this movement that doesn’t have a message. Here’s CNN’s Erin Burnett in a classic put-down of the OWS’ refusal to tailor its message to her. It takes a walloping amount of willful cluelessness to look at a mass of people holding up signs and claim that they have no message.


Think, for just a moment, about the irony. We are the most media-saturated 24-hour-cable-soaked culture in the world, and yet around the country, on Facebook and at protests, people are holding up cardboard signs, the way protesters in ancient Sumeria might have done when demonstrating against a rise in the price of figs. And why is that? Because they very wisely don’t trust television cameras and microphones to get it right anymore. Because a media constructed around the illusion of false equivalencies, screaming pundits, and manufactured crises fails to capture who we are and what we value.

For the past several years, while the mainstream media was dutifully reporting on all things Kardashian or (more recently) a wholly manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, ordinary people were losing their health care, their homes, their jobs, and their savings. Those people have taken that narrative to Facebook and Twitter—just as citizens took to those alternative forms of media throughout the Middle East as part of the Arab Spring. And just to be clear: They aren’t holding up signs that say “I want Bill O’Reilly’s stuff.” They aren’t holding up signs that say “I am animated by toxic levels of envy and entitlement.” They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want—wait, no, we want—to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else.


Mark your calendars: The corporate media died when it announced it was too sophisticated to understand simple declarative sentences. While the mainstream media expresses puzzlement and fear at these incomprehensible “protesters” with their oddly well-worded “signs,” the rest of us see our own concerns reflected back at us and understand perfectly. Turning off mindless programming might be the best thing that ever happens to this polity.
Go read the whole article and get the embedded links.

I'm 100% behind the above interpretation of media misleading the 99%.

Krugman Identifies the Real Radicals

From Paul Krugman's NY Times blog:
The Amnesiac Economy

Mark Thoma sends us to John Cassidy on the absence of really new ideas in this crisis — largely because we didn’t need new ideas, all we needed for the most part was to remember things that we somehow forgot.

This is a theme dear to my heart. The crisis we’re in is not something unprecedented. It’s a close cousin to the Great Depression — milder, but recognizably the same sort of thing. And we understand — or used to understand — how the Depression happened, and what to do in such a situation. Most of what’s required are fairly straightforward translations of existing concepts. For example, we have a pretty good understanding of bank runs; extending that framework to shadow banking requires little more than the understanding that repo and other kinds of short-maturity obligations are, from an economic point of view, more or less equivalent to deposits.

So how is it that policy is so confused and lost?

I’ve been arguing for a while that much of the economics profession has lost its way, recapitulating old errors because it made a point of unlearning what Keynes taught. But it’s not just economists who willfully threw away hard-won insights.

On Monday night we had a panel discussion of the euro crisis at Princeton — me, Chris Sims, Hyun Shin, Markus Brunnermeier. I was struck by some of what Sims had to say. He pointed out that central banks have always had a wider mandate than simply guaranteeing price stability; they’ve always served as lenders of last resort, including having a standby capacity to finance the government in times of need. And there are good, well-understood reasons for this wider mandate. Yet the creators of the euro essentially threw away hard-won wisdom — stuff that Bagehot knew in the 19th century! — to create a stripped-down central bank without the powers or flexibility that history has shown are necessary. What were they thinking?

The result of all this is that the supposedly sober, serious people are actually radicals insisting that we can make the economy work in ways that it has never worked in the past — hence the embrace of magical thinking on expansionary austerity and the power of structural reform. Meanwhile, the irresponsible bearded professors are actually the custodians of traditional wisdom.

And those who are determined to forget the past run a high risk of reliving it — which is why we’re in the state we’re in.
The similarity of the arrogance shown by many "economists" and the EU bank is the same kind of arrogance shown by the neo-cons and Donald Rumsfeld. It is a willful rejection of the past and a claim to "superior" knowledge that is based not on fact and theory but on a willful distortion to fit a preconceived ideology. History is replete with this kind of "radical" taking control and wrecking things while claiming "superior knowledge".

Stable societies have traditions and accreditation requirements put in place to prevent these usurpers from taking control and wrecking things. Private business faces a similar problem with psychopaths take high positions. These are individuals with no regard for others an an overweening sense of self that lets them wreck everything about them for their own gratification or sense of self importance.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Krugman Reviews the State of the "Recovery"

From Paul Krugman's NY Times op-ed column in the NY Times:
But it’s worth stepping back to look at the larger picture, namely the abject failure of an economic doctrine — a doctrine that has inflicted huge damage both in Europe and in the United States.

The doctrine in question amounts to the assertion that, in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price. So a crisis brought on by deregulation becomes a reason to move even further to the right; a time of mass unemployment, instead of spurring public efforts to create jobs, becomes an era of austerity, in which government spending and social programs are slashed.

This doctrine was sold both with claims that there was no alternative — that both bailouts and spending cuts were necessary to satisfy financial markets — and with claims that fiscal austerity would actually create jobs. The idea was that spending cuts would make consumers and businesses more confident. And this confidence would supposedly stimulate private spending, more than offsetting the depressing effects of government cutbacks.


But the doctrine has, nonetheless, been extremely influential. Expansionary austerity, in particular, has been championed both by Republicans in Congress and by the European Central Bank, which last year urged all European governments — not just those in fiscal distress — to engage in “fiscal consolidation.”

And when David Cameron became Britain’s prime minster last year, he immediately embarked on a program of spending cuts in the belief that this would actually boost the economy — a decision that was greeted with fawning praise by many American pundits.

Now, however, the results are in, and the picture isn’t pretty. Greece has been pushed by its austerity measures into an ever-deepening slump — and that slump, not lack of effort on the part of the Greek government, was the reason a classified report to European leaders concluded last week that the existing program there was unworkable. Britain’s economy has stalled under the impact of austerity, and confidence from both businesses and consumers has slumped, not soared.

Maybe the most telling thing is what now passes for a success story. A few months ago various pundits began hailing the achievements of Latvia, which in the aftermath of a terrible recession, nonetheless, managed to reduce its budget deficit and convince markets that it was fiscally sound. That was, indeed, impressive, but it came at the cost of 16 percent unemployment and an economy that, while finally growing, is still 18 percent smaller than it was before the crisis.

So bailing out the banks while punishing workers is not, in fact, a recipe for prosperity. But was there any alternative? Well, that’s why I’m in Iceland, attending a conference about the country that did something different.

If you’ve been reading accounts of the financial crisis, or watching film treatments like the excellent “Inside Job,” you know that Iceland was supposed to be the ultimate economic disaster story: its runaway bankers saddled the country with huge debts and seemed to leave the nation in a hopeless position.

But a funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver.
It is tragic that all the countries around the world are in the grip of right wing ideology and simply refuse to use the lessons learned in the Great Depression and nicely summarized by John Maynard Keynes: Central government must lean against the wind. During good times have a surplus for a rainy day. During bad times, spend to replace the missing spending by the private sector.

Austerity appeals to the bond holders because it ensures the "soundness" of the money (and even promotes deflation) which gives the holders of cash an even greater share of the wealth. Meanwhile, the debters burden gets more crushing. Normally you would inflate you way out of a depression because you want to encourage those holding cash to either spend it or invest it.

The "policies" of 2008 to now have been to reward the Wall Street miscreants while punishing the innocent. It is an insane policy. It was the George Bush policy and now it is the Barack Obama policy. Shame!

OWS in Song & Dance

What social movement worth its salt doesn't give birth to creative arts? I find this interesting as a blend of gospel and high opera music with a gritty visual realism:

I like this poster by Lalo Alcaraz because it is playful. It has a serious message but it tempers it by using the humourous image of the prototypical "capitalist" from the Monopoly game:

Click to Enlarge

In this post he deals with a commenter who tries to take him to task for being anti-corporations when his very job depends on them and that he should be grateful to the corporations. His reply was excellent:
Corporations and Wall St. are not doing us any favors, they are making money off of US. If you believe otherwise, you are not clear on the Occupy Wall St. issue or any of the recent economic disasters going on for the past 30 years!

I want Wall Street and all who benefit from our economy to give up their monopolistic control of the economy so that it is more equitable for all. YOU are suggesting some kind of shadow “communist” critique, no one is calling for the destruction of capitalism, the rich have perverted it enough. We want fairness.
This is the perfect rejoinder to someone who would twist the protest into an "anti-capitalist rant". He points out that he has no problem with corporations. He objects to how they have corrupted the political system and stolen the voice from the people. The goal of the OWS movement is political renewal and economic justice.

And documentary film makers are having a field day "getting out the message" in so many ways:

Good News

From the Calculated Risk blog:
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), real GDP is finally just above the pre-recession peak. The estimate for real GDP in Q3 (2005 dollars) was $13,352.8 billion, 0.2% above the $13,326.0 billion in Q4 2007. Nominal GDP was reported as $15,198.6 billion in Q3 2011.
After nearly four years, the economy is finally back to where it was in late 2007. Sadly, the population is larger, the number of potential workers is larger, but the actual number of workers is smaller. While the total income of the whole population has recovered, the amount going to the bottom 99% is still less than what it was in 2007. The top 1% keep hoovering up any loose dollars and pocketing them which they, in their role of "job creators", then use increase their bank accounts and not create new jobs despite all the propaganda of the Republican ideologues.

As you can see, it is investment in equipment & software that is the engine of the recovery, not construction:

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Here is the bad news and the reason why the OWS movement is growing:

Click to Enlarge

Among his many shortcomings, the fact that Obama has failed to seriously address the housing crisis has made this Great Recession linger longer and deeper than it needed to have been. A great deal of needless suffering has been shouldered by the 99% because Obama refused to force the banks to swallow the costs of their bad decisions. Instead the bankers got to keep their big bonuses and nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayer dollars has gone to prop up the big Wall Street banks while 25 million are unemployed and 10 million have lost their homes. That is "economic justice" for the 1% but not for the 99%.

An Honest Man

It is rare to find somebody with integrity, somebody who values principle more than status & money. So this story in the UK's Guardian is heart-warming:
St Paul's canon Dr Giles Fraser resigned over plans to forcibly evict Occupy protesters from the outside the cathedral.
This makes very clear his unusual background and approach:
On the face of it, Giles Fraser is an unlikely looking cleric. Bald, jovial, worldly, ferociously bright but genial towards those within the fractious Church of England who disagree with him, his favourite form of garb is jeans and T-shirt.

It is a uniform in keeping with the 47-year-old's support for Chelsea football club and his determinedly demotic persona, though he had to change into a more conventional dog-collar and black suit when translated from his parish in Putney to St Paul's two years ago.

Looks are deceptive though: Fraser is the son of an RAF officer, educated at Uppingham private school and Newcastle University and latterly a lecturer at Wadham College, Oxford. He has been a regular lecturer at military staff colleges and at one stage considered becoming an army chaplain.

His family background is Jewish, and he was a teenage Trotskyite before converting to Anglicanism at university. His doctorate comes from a thesis on the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who famously declared that God – at least in the old-fashioned sense – was dead.

Fraser, served his curacy on a rundown Midlands council housing estate and for 10 years was vicar of Putney parish church in one of the most well-heeled parts of London. He equally valued the church as the scene of the post-civil war debates on the sort of society England should become.

He has never made any secret of his generally, leftwing, progressive views both politically and within the Church of England, where he has been a prominent supporter of the pro-gay Inclusive Church group, launched at a service in his church.
It is classic that a tough issue results in the honest man withdrawing while the social climbers and "yes men" cling to power and creep higher up the echelons of society strengthening their death hold on society. In a nutshell this story explains why society makes so little progress and the evils of the past keep repeating and repeating.

Here is the bureaucratic jujutsu that did him in:
Some critics will undoubtedly say that his resignation was waiting to happen, given that Fraser is not an instinctive committee man or church bureaucrat: in Putney he was in charge, at St Paul's he has had to be part of a team. He had been talking privately about possibly needing to resign when the chapter voted to take action against the protesters, but his hand may have been forced – ironically – by the revelation of that in the media. It is an interesting question who leaked it: there are church conservatives who would be delighted to see him fall.
How many times has the honest man gone down for his principles while the more "supple" social climber has climbed higher? Ever wonder how a Stalin, a Hitler, or a Mao got to the top of the heap?

I look at how the media is trying to undermine the OWS movement by questioning their motives or by trying to put them in a box by demanding that they come up with a short list of "demands". The reality is that this is a movement of social protest deeply rooted in decades of mistreatment by a system that is gamed against the 99%. Those on top my slap themselves on the back with a "job well done" by getting rid of Giles Fraser but they are simply upping the pressure cooker of social unrest and ensuring an ever more devastating explosion because the system simply won't give the bottom 99% a fair break. History is replete with popular uprisings gone amok because the "clever" people on the top manipulated things right to the point of complete breakdown.

Quebec Country & Western

I have a soft spot for Annie Blanchard. I love the purity of her voice and the touch of "country & western" in his music.

Here is the her doing a cover for Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make it Through the Night":

And I love her rendition of Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" which recounts the epic story of the ethnic cleansing of the French colonists from Acadia by the British in the 1750s. It is a heart-breaking story and her singing does it full justice with the drama and sorrow in her voice:

Here is a song, Sur l'autre rive, from her latest album which has a wonderful "country & western" feel to it:

And here's one, Marcher vers le nord, with a wonderful video in which she collaborates with Laurence Jalbert:

I find it amazing how rich and wonderful the world of culture is outside the narrow confines of "popular culture" as defined by the big media interests and their stable of "stars".

Here is Annie Blanchar's web site. This text nicely summarizes her music:
La chanteuse s’est inspirée de son expérience de vie de tournée, avec tout ce que cela suppose de difficultés liées à la solitude et à l’éloignement.

Sur un rythme up tempo qui n’est pas sans rappeler la chanteuse Sheryl Crow à qui elle voue un immense respect, Annie Blanchard reste fidèle à ses racines, à sa culture, à cette couleur country qui lui sied si bien.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bill Black on Defusing the Financial Crisis

Hard to believe but we are three years into the Financial Crisis of 2008 and still there has been no effective solution. Here is a video in which Bill Black discusses the situation. At 3:35 in the video he comes out with the recommendations which I favour: fire Geithner, fire Bernanke, fire Eric Holder:

I like the bit about getting the FBI to stop wasting time on the "little folk" and go after the frauds of the big banks.

At 7:50 into the video, Bill Black identifies positive actions that Obama could take immediately without any action by Congress. It is simple: get the regulatory agencies to police the financial industry!

Obama has failed the people because he had a chance to come in and clean up the slime of 30 years of "trickle down" economics in which lobbying by corporations has absolutely corrupted the US government. At 9:50 in the video, Bill Black calls Obama an "abject failure" for failing to rein in the corruption of the financial industry and the his indifference of failure of the regulators to take seriously their duty to regulate.

Examining Income Inequality

Here are some bits from an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald in The Nation:
Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1 percent. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20 percent. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.

The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the trend, but not radically: the top 1 percent of earners in America have been feeding ever more greedily at the trough for decades.


Not only have the overwhelming majority of Americans long acquiesced to vast income and wealth disparities, but some of those most oppressed by these outcomes have cheered it loudly. Americans have been inculcated not only to accept but to revere those who are the greatest beneficiaries of this inequality.

In the 1980s, this paradox—whereby even those most trampled upon come to cheer those responsible for their state—became more firmly entrenched. That’s because it found a folksy, friendly face, Ronald Reagan, adept at feeding the populace a slew of Orwellian clichés that induced them to defend the interests of the wealthiest. “A rising tide,” as President Reagan put it, “lifts all boats.” The sum of his wisdom being: it is in your interest when the rich get richer.

Implicit in this framework was the claim that inequality was justified and legitimate. The core propagandistic premise was that the rich were rich because they deserved to be. They innovated in industry, invented technologies, discovered cures, created jobs, took risks, and boldly found ways to improve our lives. In other words, they deserved to be enriched. Indeed, it was in our common interest to allow them to fly as high as possible because that would increase their motivation to produce more, bestowing on us ever greater life-improving gifts.


This is the mentality that enabled massive growth in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades without much at all in the way of citizen protest. And yet something has indeed changed. It’s not that Americans suddenly woke up one day and decided that substantial income and wealth inequality are themselves unfair or intolerable. What changed was the perception of how that wealth was gotten and so of the ensuing inequality as legitimate.

Many Americans who once accepted or even cheered such inequality now see the gains of the richest as ill-gotten, as undeserved, as cheating. Most of all, the legal system that once served as the legitimizing anchor for outcome inequality, the rule of law—that most basic of American ideals, that a common set of rules are equally applied to all—has now become irrevocably corrupted and is seen as such.
If you watch the popular media closely you will see that they try to discredit the OWS movement by claiming it is driven by envy, that these are all "hippies and ne'er do wells who are jealous of the rich". The point Glenn Greenwald is making sets this right: the American people are not against the rich, they are against the rich buying the politicians and getting "special rules" to exempt them for punishment when they commit financial crimes that blow up the economy.
Today, it is glaringly obvious to a wide range of Americans that the wealth of the top 1 percent is the byproduct not of risk-taking entrepreneurship but of corrupted control of our legal and political systems. Thanks to this control, they can write laws that have no purpose than to abolish the few limits that still constrain them, as happened during the Wall Street deregulation orgy of the 1990s. They can retroactively immunize themselves for crimes they deliberately committed for profit, as happened when the 2008 Congress shielded the nation’s telecom giants for their role in Bush’s domestic warrantless eavesdropping program.

It is equally obvious that they are using that power not to lift the boats of ordinary Americans but to sink them. In short, Americans are now well aware of what the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, blurted out in 2009 about the body in which he serves: the banks “frankly own the place.”

If you were to assess the state of the union in 2011, you might sum it up this way: rather than being subjected to the rule of law, the nation’s most powerful oligarchs control the law and are so exempt from it; and increasing numbers of Americans understand that and are outraged. At exactly the same time that the nation’s elites enjoy legal immunity even for egregious crimes, ordinary Americans are being subjected to the world's largest and one of its harshest penal states, under which they are unable to secure competent legal counsel and are harshly punished with lengthy prison terms for even trivial infractions.
The OCW people are in the streets because:
In lieu of the rule of law—the equal application of rules to everyone—what we have now is a two-tiered justice system in which the powerful are immunized while the powerless are punished with increasing mercilessness. As a guarantor of outcomes, the law has, by now, been so completely perverted that it is an incomparably potent weapon for entrenching inequality further, controlling the powerless, and ensuring corrupted outcomes.


That is what has changed, and a growing recognition of what it means is fueling rising citizen anger and protest. The inequality under which so many suffer is not only vast, but illegitimate, rooted as it is in lawlessness and corruption. Obscuring that fact has long been the linchpin for inducing Americans to accept vast and growing inequalities. That fact is now too glaring to obscure any longer.
The battle lines are drawn. The struggle begins. Sadly both political parties have defected to the 1%. So this will be a long and bitter struggle.

The Right to Peacefully Assemble for the Redress of Grievances

Here is a video that gives more "context" to the Occupy Oakland incident. It is fairly clear that the police were not threatened. Instead, you hear them reading the riot act to citizens peacefully assembled seeking a redress of grievances. Then all hell breaks loose...

Here is the specific event:

It is obvious that a government has the right to control crowds, but the legal and police authorities have to be lenient with crowds with a political grievance. Otherwise you turn a democracy into a police state where the only "right" you have is to ask "how high?" when the state tells you to "jump". That isn't freedom. That is tyranny.

The police have no right to use force in a situation where the crowd is peaceful. Even suiting up in full riot gear is provocative. It shouldn't be done. And you certainly shouldn't be carrying out "street clearing" actions under the cover of dark and a fusilade of grenades and tear gas. That is war, not policing.

Update 2011nov12: Here is an update from Veterans for Peace on the condition of Scott Olsen, the injured ex-Marine who served in Iraq and was shot by trigger-happy cops at the Occupy Oakland protests:
Adele Carpenter Updates VFP on Scott Olsen

Hi, all.

I had a chance to visit Scott this evening. He is very present, alert, and has a lot of energy. He is still struggling with speech, but is attempting conversations without having the writing instrument out. He also is doing an amazing job of staying patient with himself and didn't seem to get frustrated with himself or need to rush when trying to work out thoughts in speech. Personally, it was a huge relief to see him after last having seen him while he was sedated and in critical condition.

We did talk some business and I wanted to give an update on that.

Housing: His parents are coming tomorrow and they will be looking for a place in the South Bay near where he will be accessing outpatient treatment. He said he doesn't know if they need help looking and I agreed to call his mom tomorrow to check about how their settling here might go. He said that he and Keith will look for a place in Berkeley after his parents leave in November.

Visiting and Support: He said he doesn't want or need any formal plans for visitation, like making a schedule of folks to keep him company when he is out, and that informally scheduling visits has been fine and he will let people know if he needs something else. He doesn't have any big wishes or desires for when he gets out of the hospital. He already got to go out for Thai food, but other than that, he is just focused on getting better.

Legal: Scott is aware that allies have offered legal contacts trained in police accountability and veteran issues. I also told him that several lawyers have expressed urgency around his case and investigation being taken up. He said he is already taking care of this and that if he wants bios or contacts for those lawyers, he will let me know.

Media: Scott would like to shoot to put out a statement for Vet's day, but doesn't want to rush himself because he doesn't know how much energy its going to take when his parents arrive and also with transitioning out of inpatient over this week. If he does write something, he would like someone to look it over. I also assume he'd rely on us to disseminate any statement to press contacts. I really wanted to respect that he not push himself since there will be a lot going on the next few days. If he does write something or want help composing something, he knows that we are more than willing to line up support.

Hope that covers the business end. My overall impression was that he is both trying to take it easy, but is also able to start taking care of his affairs and knows that he can ask for support if he needs it. I'm really happy he's doing so well and seems both accepting and determined. All good news for today.

Civilian-Soldier Alliance

American Income Inequality 2011

Here is the data released today by the Congressional Budget Office: the rich get richer and the poor get left in the dust...

Click to Enlarge

The above is as old as the Bible since the rich over time got richer and the poor poorer. That was why there was a jubilee to remit debts, because the rich will constantly grab more, and without pushback from government power or religious power, this leads to the collapse of society. The OWS movement is the modern evidence of this ancient problem and the need, yet again, of a remedy.

Why Wall Street Always Wins in Politics

Here's a bit from an article in Mother Jones about Elizabeth Warren. Look at the money being marshalled by Wall Street to defeat her:
Warren is expected to win the Democratic nomination, which won't be formally decided until next September. A survey by Public Policy Polling last month, just after she entered the race, gave Warren a two point edge over Brown. But the race is expected to be a battle. Warren has already raised $3 million in an abbreviated first quarter of fundraising, and Brown has $10.5 million cash on hand—much of it from Wall Street.
The attack ads are already lined up and ready to go to try to take her down. Hopefully she wins. She is an honest person not yet corrupted by politics (and is hopefully uncorruptable, but you can't tell).

Go read the rest of the article to see how the right wing press is trying to trip her up by painting her as a "radical" over Occupy Wall Street.

After you digest the above, you are ready to read Matt Taibbi's post on his Rolling Stone blog entitled "Wall Street Isn't Winning – It's Cheating".

A Voice from the 1%

This is refreshing. Here is a post on The Daily Kos from someone who says he is part of the 1% but understands why the Occupy Wall Street movement is growing:
The impetus behind the Occupy Wall Street movement - a vague sense that the rich are getting ever richer while everyone else suffers - was confirmed by a recent report from the Social Security Administration showing that while total employment and average wages remained stagnant, the number of people earning $1 million or more grew by 18% from 2009 to 2010. Those figures give real substance to the "We are the 99%" slogan, yet Republicans continue to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that if anything those "job creators" deserve an even greater share of our national income. The Tea Party, meanwhile, has launched its own "53%" movement, inexplicably rallying the working class to the defense of the wealthy. The one group rarely heard from in this rancorous debate is the 1%, whose incomes and taxes are its focus. I am one of them, and here is my perspective, which may surprise you.

First let me note that I am not part of the yacht and private jet set, which represents an even smaller subset of incomes than mine. The threshold for inclusion in the top 1% of income earners in 2008, the most recent year for which published data is available from the IRS, was $380,354, enough for an extraordinary life but nowhere near enough for a harbor berth in St. Moritz. Nevertheless, I am - for now - comfortably ensconced in that demographic. Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan would save me roughly $400,000 a year in taxes, and President Obama's tax proposals would cost me more than $100,000, yet I support the latter and consider the former laughable.

Thus you can imagine my amazement this summer when I watched the Republicans in Congress push the United States to the brink of default - and the world to the brink of ruin - over whether to repeal a portion of the Bush tax cuts and raise my taxes by 3.5%. I know a lot of people with high incomes and even the conservatives among them were confused by that sequence of events. Here is a secret about rich people: we wouldn't have noticed a 3.5% tax increase. That is not only because there isn't a material difference between having $1 million and $965,000, which is obvious, but also because most of us don't actually know how much money we are going to make in a given year. Most income at that level is the result of profits rather than salary, whether it comes in the form of bonuses, stock options, partnership distributions, dividends or capital gains. Profits are unpredictable and they tend to vary wildly. At my own firm, the general rule of thumb is that if we are within 5% of our budget for the year, everyone is happy and no one complains. A variation of 3.5% is merely a random blip.

I was not amazed but disgusted when John Boehner and his crew tried to justify the extremity of their position by rebranding the wealthy as "job creators." While true in a very basic sense, it obscures the fact that jobs are a cost that is voluntarily incurred only as a result of demand. Hiring has no correlation at all to profits or to income - none. Let me keep more of my money without increasing customer demand and I will do just that - keep it. Perhaps I will spend a little more of it, though probably not, but even if I do it won't help the economy very much. Here is another secret of the well-to-do: we don't really buy much more stuff than everyone else. It may be more expensive stuff, sure, but I don't buy cars, or appliances, or furniture, or anything else more frequently than the average consumer. The things I do spend more money on are services such as travel, entertainment, restaurants and landscaping, none of which generate well-paying middle class jobs. There, in a nutshell, is the sad explanation of what has happened to the American economy over the last 25 years of "trickle down" economics.

That's why I was so pleased when the Occupy Wall Street protests began. I support them wholeheartedly, for several reasons. ...
Go read the whole post to find out what his reasons are! He has an interesting life story that is well worth reading and he makes many points worth pondering.

The Right to Petition the Government, the Oakland "Occupy Wall Street" Version

Lots of countries have high-sounding "Constitutions" with lots of "rights" and "liberties". The real test is when the citizenry attempt to exercise their rights.

The US has its First Amendment as part of its "Bill of Rights" to its Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Sadly, the authorities interpret that as the right to assemble and petition in some far away scruffy corner where nobody will see you or hear you. If you decide to assemble in an urban area, the authorities will soon decide that you are an "eyesore" that there are "health concerns" and that you have "overstayed your welcome". In short, protest, but not too loudly, not to visibly, and not too long.

You can tell when your rights are "fishy"... they send in the cops in riot gear in the middle of the night and unleash the hounds of hell to drive you away...

News coverage:
A legitimate government would assemble the police without riot gear, invite in the press, bring in cameras, send in high profile officials to explain why they want to move and/or suppress the demonstration, and rely on public consensus to get the protesters to leave.

I have no problem with cops in riot gear going in full force on the crazy nihilists who use "protests" as a cover for trashing the city. But if the government is legitimate, they should be able to get all but a handful to leave peacefully if the government truly has the consent of the governed behind them. That they are doing this in the middle of the night with such violence says to me that the government is bought-and-sold by big corporate money and the billionaires behind the scenes. There is nothing "legitimate" in handling peaceful protest in this manner.

An honest government wouldn't be using violation of "camping laws" or the so-called worries over "sanitation" to send in riot cops to beat people with billy clubs and tear gas them. That isn't how you deal with campers and trash. That is how a police state deals with political dissent. So much for the "rights" of Americans under their constitution. US citizens have a Constitutionally "guaranteed right to protest" so long as they do it at home, in a closet, in a whisper, in the dark, and don't let anybody know about their "protest".

The Robots are Coming, the Robots are Coming!

And on bicycles no less...

Maybe this "takeover" by the robots won't be so bad. This robo-guy is a midget on a bike. He isn't the hulking threat that Klaatu was in The Day the Earth Stood Still. And this isn't the gray goo that threatens to swallow us up and they populate the earth with their slimy descendants.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the day that I can sit down and have a friendly chat with a robot that not only makes a good companion but will help tuck me in bed at night and make sure I have three square meals a day. I'm an optimist with the fear of a little pessimism because I know some idiot will steal the warm and fuzzy robo-future and replace it with hulking RoboCop look-alikes who will beat me with a baton if I have an independent thought. The evil have a way of stealing sweetness and light and replacing it with power, dominance, fear, and pain. They prefer the future in shades of black. Oh... and with them on top.

The Dilbert Version of "Occupy Wall Street"

Here is a nice bit by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, to put the issues of Occupy Wall Street into simple terms people can understand:
If you and a friend go to lunch with each other on a regular basis, but you pay for lunch three times as often as your friend, is that fair?

Your mind immediately wonders if there are extenuating circumstances. Is the friend doing something for you in some other way? Are you wealthy whereas your friend is not? Is your friend also a client? Did your friend drive from out of town? Are these lunches always in the same place?

When evaluating fairness, we understand that you need to throw everything into the mix. You can't isolate one variable. For example, when comparing the tax burden on the rich versus the other 99%, you want to look beyond the federal income tax rate and include payroll taxes, sales taxes, and any other taxes. That's fair, right?

Wait...Are we leaving something out? Why don't we also tally up the benefits of the taxes? That's part of the equation too. Let's go back to our lunch example to see why.

Suppose you buy lunch three times more often than your friend, but in every case you eat at your favorite place in the world and your friend can barely tolerate the cuisine. Let's also assume it's a long drive for your friend, but very convenient for you. In fact, it's the only restaurant that's near enough to your workplace for you to have lunch in an hour. You both get the benefit of your friendly banter, but only one of you enjoys the food and convenience. With this new information, it seems a bit fairer that you pay for lunch more often than your friend because you get the most benefit.

Now back to taxes. Doesn't the fairness argument demand that we at least try to determine who gets the most benefits from taxes paid? I think it does. (This is a good time to remind you that fairness isn't a real thing. I'm just chasing shadows here to make a point.)

So who benefits most from taxes? Is it the wealthy person who benefits from protecting his fortune, or is it the people who consume the greatest percentage of the social services? Let's consider some specifics to tease out an answer.

Consider Social Security. The wealthy pay a much lower percentage of their total income towards social security because the tax only applies to the first $106,800 of income. And the wealthy also make a lot of money from investments that are not subject to the tax. But on the benefit side, Social Security has no real value to the wealthy. The retirement payout isn't enough to change their lifestyles. Social Security is an odd tax in the sense that you're really just letting the government hold your dollar with the promise that if you live long enough they might give you one or even two dollars later. In that sense, the tax is only unfair to the people who die young.

How about the military? All citizens get the same bodily protection. But the rich also get to protect vast fortunes whereas the poor and middle class have less to protect. But remember that half of the country pays zero federal income tax. Financially, they get a free ride from military protection, unless they are in the military. And a typical rich person might pay a hundred times more in federal taxes, on an absolute dollar basis, than a typical middle class taxpayer. That seems about right.

If you think of paying taxes for military protection as a sort of insurance policy, I would argue that it has great value for protecting your first $100 million of assets and a rapidly declining value for protecting anything above that arbitrary number. In other words, if a wealthy person loses all but his last $100 million, his lifestyle would be about the same as before. A wealthy person's practical benefit from the military is capped even if his fortune is not.

We can't ignore the physical and emotional cost to military people and their families, which is concentrated in the non-wealthy portion of the population. But as long as military service remains voluntary, I think we can view that noble calling as a separate issue from taxes.

How about sales taxes? There are no sales taxes on groceries, rent, education, medical care, garbage service, water, or any of the essential services provided by public agencies. That covers most of the budget for low income families. My guess is that most people pay about 1% of their income for sales taxes and get more than their money's worth in state services in return. The rich pay a much higher dollar amount, but arguably that's a good value for them too. They have more assets to protect from criminals, more cars on the road, and so on.

I don't have an overall conclusion in terms of tax fairness because fairness isn't a real thing. People simply do whatever they think will maximize their benefit, give or take some irrationality. Fairness is just the marketing spin. All I'm saying today is that any discussion of tax rate fairness needs to include a discussion of who gets the most benefits. A more complete discussion of fairness, as I'm suggesting, will still be ridiculous, because fairness is an illusion. But for some reason I can't settle for half an illusion. I like my absurdities in full servings.
Looking at society is a lot like the three blind me inspecting the elephant. Each "sees" something different. The billionaires are convinced that it was their genius and hard work that got them their wealth. Others, like Warren Buffett, point out that you can't make a billion without a society with the infrastructure in place to support your entrepreneurial spirit.

For too long -- roughly 40 years -- the radical right has been selling the American people a pig in a poke. They have claimed that if you bow and scrape when the rich pass by they will toss dollar bills out the window to make your life better (the infamous Reagan "trickle down" economy). The latest incarnation is "don't tax the rich because they are the 'job creators' and if you tax them they will go on strike and there will be no more jobs". It is an utter lie, but it scares a lot of people. The OWS movement is finally breaking the mental shackles of 40 years of right wing propaganda.