Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Professor West's stirring call to action!

Professor Cornel West wrote this fine front-page piece for our November North American Edition of The Occupied Wall Street Journal:
"We the people of the global Occupy movement embody and enact a deep democratic awakening with genuine joy and fierce determination. Our movement—leaderless and leaderful—is a soulful expression of a moral outrage at the ugly corporate greed that pushes our society and world to the brink of catastrophe. We are aware that our actions have inaugurated a radical enlightenment in a moment of undeniable distrust and disgust with oligarchic economies, corrupt politicians, arbitrary rule of law and corporate media weapons of mass distraction. And we intend to sustain our momentum by nurturing our bonds of trust, fortifying our bodies, hearts and minds and sticking together through hell or high water in order to create a better world through a deep democratic revolution.

We refuse to be mere echoes of the vicious lies that support an illegitimate status quo. Our deep democratic awakening takes the form of we everyday people raising our individual and collective voices to tell the painful truths about unjust systems and unfair structures that yield unnecessary social misery. The past thirty years of a top-down, one-sided class war on precious poor and working people—with the greatest transfer of wealth from bottom to top in human history—have taught us that we either fight together in the name of truth and justice or we lose our livelihoods and sacred honor. In this sense, the movement is already victorious: our organizing and mobilizing have shifted public discourses toward truth and justice—towards a focus on corporate greed, wealth inequality, escalating poverty, obscene levels of unemployment, the role of big money in politics, and abusive military and police power. But we have work ahead of us yet.

The full-scale bankruptcy of the neo-liberal order—of deregulated markets, unaccountable oligarchs, bribed politicians, is now an established fact of life and history. Its age is coming to an end. Our deep democratic enlightenment must break out of our narrow intellectual frameworks and our parochial cultural habitus. Like the inventors of jazz, we must be open-minded, flexible, fluid, inclusive, transparent, courageous, self-critical, compassionate and visionary. We must recast old notions of empire, class, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and nature into new ways of thinking and being. Our movement is a precious, sublime, messy and funky form of incubation. Again like jazz, we must embody and enact a loving embrace of the art of our collaborative creations. We must embody a universal embrace of all those in the human family, and sentient beings, and consolidate an unstoppable fortitude in the face of systems of oppression and structures of domination. We will suffer, shudder and struggle together with smiles on our faces and a love supreme in our souls. Just as justice is what love looks like in public, and tenderness is what love feels like in private, deep democratic revolution is what justice looks like in practice.

Revolution may scare some people because of its connotation of violence. And this is understandable in light of many past revolutions, such as the American revolutions against monarchy in 1776 or against slavery in 1861. But the revolution in our time—against oligarchy and plutocracy—need not be an ugly and violent one. The rich legacies of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, and recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, have taught us that we can deal with our social catastrophes with social compassion and that we can transform unjust societies with courageous visions and nonviolent strategies. If we equip ourselves with truthful systemic analyses of power in our minds, moral commitments of steel in our backs and a genuine joy in serving others in our hearts, then our dream of a nascent justice spread across the globe may be no mere illusion.

We are prisoners of a blood-stained, tear-soaked hope. This means we are free to imagine and create a more deeply democratic world than we have yet witnessed.”

I have nothing to add, except to say, “Amen," Brother Cornel!!   

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Accurate account of Fed/City collusion in fascist suppression of free speech

Here's the skinny from Naomi Wolf in last friday's guardian post:

"US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.
But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."
In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.
To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.
I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.
Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.
That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.
The mainstream media was declaring continually "OWS has no message". Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online "What is it you want?" answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.
No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.
When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.
For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).
In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.
But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the "scandal" of presidential contender Newt Gingrich's having been paid $1.8m for a few hours' "consulting" to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies' profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.
Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists' privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can't suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.
So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.
Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us."

Succinct and accurate, I'm sad to say...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not too late to hear eight!

Some folks are still telling me that they don't get what us OWSers are looking for... So here's eight simple requests that we'd like the U.S. to get busy on:

Support Communities, not Wall Street

  1. Tax Wall Street for gambling with our money. Pass the financial speculation tax.
  2. Support education. Put teachers back in classrooms and ease the crippling burden of student debt.
  3. Keep working families in their homes. Pass a mortgage relief plan that puts the needs of homeowners above the greed of mortgage bankers.
  4. End too big to fail. Rein in the big banks NOW and hold the people who caused the financial crisis accountable.

America Wants to Work

  1. Fair share of taxes from the 1%. End the Bush tax cuts for the 1% and close corporate tax loopholes.
  2. Businesses should invest in jobs. Corporations must stop sitting on their profits and start hiring again here in America.
  3. Extend unemployment insurance. Millions of Americans are still out of work, and unemployment insurance is a vital lifeline.

Restore Democracy

  1. End corporate control of our democracy. Abolish "corporate personhood" and restore full voting rights to real people.

Simple enough, no? What a great change if even some of these requests were taken seriously by the 1%!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A prayer from St. Francis of Assisi

This is one of my favorite prayers from St. Francis, particularly appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday:

"Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my
Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my
Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my
Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my
Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they
will be crowned."

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Marching from New York to D.C.: Almost there!!

This video should lift Leftsiders' spirits:


Sunday, November 20, 2011

A simple picture of the problem

Some of the more thoughtful 1%ers who have ambled by Zuccotti in recent weeks have asked us what drives us 99%ers to occupy their world. Well MarkSumner at DKos this morning has the answer:

"No doubt you've seen many charts over the last few months breaking down income inequality in the United States. However, looking at the way money moves through the system, doesn't really capture how badly askew our nation really is; how fragile it is, and how few people really hold the controls.

Instead of looking at income, let's take a look at a broader measure of fiscal inequality. Let's look at wealth.

Wealth rolls together a number of items. It's the cash you have in the bank, the savings bonds gathering dust in a drawer, the stocks and bonds that make up your 401k. For the better off, it's corporate bonds, municipal bonds, foreign bonds and other instruments. It's your pension, if you have one. It's the stock your corporation gives you to stick around because you're such a valuable fellow. It's that vacation home in Florida, that other vacation home outside London, that other vacation home... or maybe the other six. It's the personal ownership you have in a business. It's your family trust.

In short, it's the total of all your net assets, minus the value of your primary residence (be it ever so humble or oh so grand) and your debts. So what does America look like in those terms?

It's a staggeringly uneven distribution, with 42% of the wealth in the hands of 1% of the people. Even so, a chart like this doesn't begin to really capture how lopsided the nation really is.

Let's take a look at one of those 80-percenters.
Seems like a nice, non-assuming little American, eh? As it turns out, the wealth of this average Joe or Joanne is about... $30,000. That's everything they own, everything they have to sell, outside of their house. Hey, it could be worse. The wealth controlled by the average black American is about $500.

Now let's look at the next 10% of Americans. From the chart above, you might think that this American has a bit more than those below, but remember there are 1/8 as many people in this group controlling 57% more wealth. What it really looks like is this:

Whoa! Careful there, 80-90 percenter. You might step on one of those little folks. See, the average person in the next 10% doesn't control just 4% more wealth. Each person in this group controls over eleven times as much. And that's only the start of this trip to the top of the plutosphere. Here's the next five percent.
Each person in the 90-95% bracket controls more than twice as much wealth as those in the 80-90% bracket, and 25 times the wealth of the folks we saw first. And of course, we're still far from the top.
The folks between the 96 and 99% lines might control 29% of the wealth, but that doesn't mean they have four times the wealth of the folks in the bottom 80%. Actually, they have over 80x as much wealth. Is it getting hard to see the average American in this chart? You bet it is. Your elected representatives have the same problem. Hang on, it's going to get worse.
There. That's what America really looks like. That's how it looks to elected officials who scramble for campaign cash. Oh, they know you're down there. Every few years they get out a microscope and reach down to pet your tiny, tiny head. But mostly everything you say just fades into a faint whine, drowned out by the basso profundo rumble of the 1%. Horton may have cared about the Whos, but Horton is not the kind of elephant you find in politics.
That's how America looks to corporations and organizations who are piloted by these Godzillas of the 1%. Why should they be bothered if their massive strides should squash a few ants in passing? What difference does it make if their corporate colony gets its ants from China, or Cambodia, or wherever is cheap this week, rather than American ants? The 1% measure value by wealth, and the ants don't have any. You put all the ants together, and they still can't match even the beetles that live at the 90% mark. Actually, ants are bit of an exaggeration. You know those tiny black ants that try to invade your kitchen in the spring? Compared to the fiscal titans of the 1%, you're not that big. Think more along the lines of dust mite.

The top one percent have 38% of stock. They control 62% of the interest in private business. Expand that to the top 10% — those hamsters at the big guy's feet — and you have more than 80% of stock, more than 80% of bonds, trusts, and every other fiscal instrument. Over 75% of the non-residential real estate. You know what's really scary? Even within the one percent things are heavily weighted toward a very few in the top 1% of the 1%. I'd draw them, but the image wouldn't fit on the screen.

The "ownership society" exists. You're just not part of it.

There's only one place where the ants are supposed to be as tall as the giants — in the ballot box. That's where the average person should be able to generate pressure that keeps this from being a nation of, by, and for Godzilla. Of course, it's not quite that simple.

When Onepercentus rex and friends control the message that the ants hear on their radios and see on their TVs, it's easy to get confused. When the beetles of the legislature determine that the only way to get fresh food for the giants is by taking it from the ants, it's easy to feel as if being stepped on might be a relief.

And as long as giants...

The hell with metaphors. As long as corporations are people and money is speech, then democracy is a farce. If you want to live like a person and not an ant, that has to change."

Friday, November 18, 2011

And now let's pause for a message from our sponsor...

Open your eyes to see, and your ears to listen:


2nd coolest thing last night (after the hip-hop music in the square)

The police copters weren;t able to find and stop our guerilla projectionist! Everyone driving over the bridge into Manhattan could read our stuff. Many cars honked and gave us on the bridge a big thumbs up!  Check out the video:


No comment necessary

Benito Bloomberg's goons at work:


The rest of the day was a lot more fun...

Having escaped the Paddy wagon, I was free to enjoy the rest of the day's events. The NYPD estimated the crowd at Foley Square to have been about 32,000 people-- that seems about right according to what I saw on the square and the bridge.  http://youtu.be/fqQv3sZIUvQ  All in all, a good day for OWS... the hip-hop performers at Foley Square was the high point for me!! Great bass player!

Here's what yesterday morning was like for me

Check this out: http://youtu.be/WUxiAv5TjsQ  I was lucky not to get arrested after I told the cop who whacked me twice with a baton that I had memorized his badge #. Two other cops tried to grab me, but I ran like the dickens and got away from those out of shape donut-munchers, LOL. We're really into fascist police thug tactics under the regime of Hizzoner Benito Bloomberg here in NYC...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

True Compassion Comforts the Afflicted of OWS

Not all the news here in Gotham City is dire... this true story of concern and caring is truly heartwarming:

The sanctuary of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village. (Facebook/Middle Collegiate Church)

By Amy Zimmer and Tom Liddy
DNAinfo Staff
MANHATTAN — Churches around the borough were opening their doors Tuesday night to Occupy Wall Street protesters — who were left without a place to sleep after police cleared out Zuccotti Park hours earlier.
Among those taking in the anti-greed protesters, who first established a camp in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 17, was Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, which said Tuesday night it could accommodate about 75 protesters.
"This is what we do," said Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at the East 7th Street house of worship. "It's not new to us."

A sign at Zuccotti Park tells protesters how to get to the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on the Upper West Side for shelter on Nov. 15, 2011. (DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg)

Lewis said that those who seek shelter could expect a safe, comfortable place to sleep as well as pizza Tuesday evening and bagels in the morning.
"We're going to try to recharge their batteries," she said. "The Gospels have such a clear mandate for how we’re supposed to treat one another."
As of 10:30 p.m., about 10 people had taken advantage of the offer, including a man who had been homeless for six years.
"He said, 'The system is lousy. I hope for a place where people share what they have like you share with us'," Lewis recounted the man saying.
As for the future, she said that the hope is that Occupiers will be allowed to have their tents and sleeping gear back so that they can continue their work.
On the Upper West Side, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on West 86th Street said that about 50 protesters were expected to spend the night.
"We’re doing it because that's what a church is supposed to do," said Giovanny Mondesir, assistant building manager for the house of worship.
He said that the church had received a list of protesters who planned to spend the night and would close its doors around midnight.
"It’s really not comfortable," said Mondesir of the protesters being evicted from their Lower Manhattan encampment, near the World Trade Center. "They’re trying to do something great for all of us and they're being kicked out."
The church, he said, would offer the protesters sandwiches and likely rice as nourishment during their stay.
"We’ve been getting a lot of positive remarks, especially about our reverend [James Karpen]," who came up with the idea to house the demonstrators, Mondesir added.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20111115/downtown/churches-open-doors-occupy-wall-street-protesters#ixzz1dv6qHeHK

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tambershall's cri de coeur

Here's a first response to the little coordinated crackdown against us peaceful occupiers, here in the Big Apple and in other U.S. cities, published by Tambershall at FDL today:

The 1st amendment is still around right? The Patriot Act, or some top secret act we don’t even know about, didn’t delete the 1st amendment from the Constitution did it? I didn’t miss a memo did I? I didn’t miss the vote by all the states to modify the Constitution so the part that says, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”, was deleted/removed?

So then is the coordination by American mayors to prevent peaceable protest across America is … is this collusion?

Can some people here with legal backgrounds or legal know-how explain this to me? Can’t the ACLU just file a “the Constitution allows it so go F yourself” brief?

Sure there’s the whole public vs. private property issue, but what happens when this sock-puppet of a government sells off all public lands into the hands of the “innovators” and “job creators”, as they are currently doing? Does that mean that all private land represents a line where we no longer have constitutional rights? So all the other amendments don’t count either on private property? The Constitution has no effect on private property? Do laws no longer apply on private property? Anyone with private property can set up their own laws and their own Constitution on that property?

“I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation,” says Quan

These are the times I wish we still had journalists. If we did they would be required to ask the mayor, and the mayor at every Occupy, details about that call. How about

“What did you talk about during that call?” What are the details?

“Who else was on that call?” “Was there anyone, who’s not a mayor on that call?” “Was it only public officials, or where there non-public officials present?”

“What was said, ie. the transcript?” And if no transcript, “Since this was on the public’s dime, and concerning the public, why isn’t there a transcript?” “At this public-concerning call, where there any public representatives, and if not, why not?” “Have the mayors committed and ethical or legal violation of their duties by this action?” “By planning this across many cities, crossing state lines, are there any legal concerns for the mayors?”

This is off the top of my head. I suggest, as others have, that since journalism is dead (replaced by the corporate media and corporatist pawns), we call each mayor’s office and ask these questions.

There is still a facade of Democracy, right? So under this facade, don’t they have to respond? And if they don’t, can we finally admit the facade is also dead?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A way out of this mess?

Here's a beautfully written piece by Ellen Brown, from yesterday's Truthout:

"Henry Ford said, "It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."

We are beginning to understand, and Occupy Wall Street looks like the beginning of the revolution.

We are beginning to understand that our money is created, not by the government, but by banks. Many authorities have confirmed this, including the Federal Reserve itself. The only money the government creates today are coins, which compose less than one ten-thousandth of the money supply. Federal Reserve Notes, or dollar bills, are issued by Federal Reserve banks, all 12 of which are owned by the private banks in their district. Most of our money comes into circulation as bank loans, and it comes with an interest charge attached.

According to Margrit Kennedy, a German researcher who has studied this issue extensively, interest now composes 40 percent of the cost of everything we buy. We don't see it on the sales slips, but interest is exacted at every stage of production. Suppliers need to take out loans to pay for labor and materials before they have a product to sell.

For government projects, Kennedy found that the average cost of interest is 50 percent. If the government owned the banks, it could keep the interest and get these projects at half price. That means governments - state and federal - could double the number of projects they could afford, without costing the taxpayers a single penny more than we are paying now.

This opens up exciting possibilities. Federal and state governments could fund all sorts of things we think we can't afford now, simply by owning their own banks. They could fund something Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King dreamt of - an Economic Bill of Rights.

A Vision for Tomorrow

In his first inaugural address in 1933, Roosevelt criticized the sort of near-sighted Wall Street greed that precipitated the Great Depression. He said, "They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and where there is no vision the people perish."

Roosevelt's own vision reached its sharpest focus in 1944, when he called for a Second Bill of Rights. He said:

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights.... They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however - as our industrial economy expanded - these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

He then enumerated the economic rights he thought needed to be added to the Bill of Rights. They included:

The right to a job;

The right to earn enough to pay for food and clothing;

The right of businessmen to be free of unfair competition and domination by monopolies;

The right to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

Times have changed since the first Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791. When the country was founded, people could stake out some land, build a house on it, farm it and be self-sufficient. The Great Depression saw people turned out of their homes and living in the streets - a phenomenon we are seeing again today. Few people now own their own homes. Even if you have signed a mortgage, you will be in debt peonage to the bank for 30 years or so before you can claim the home as your own.

Health needs have changed, too. In 1791, foods were natural and nutrient rich, and outdoor exercise was built into the lifestyle. Degenerative diseases such as cancer and heart disease were rare. Today, health insurance for some people can cost as much as rent.

Then there are college loans, which collectively now exceed a trillion dollars, more even than credit card debt. Students are coming out of universities not just without jobs, but carrying a debt of $20,000 or so on their backs. For medical students and other post-graduate students, it can be $100,000 or more. Again, that's as much as a mortgage, with no house to show for it. The justification for incurring these debts was supposed to be that the students would get better jobs when they graduated, but now jobs are scarce.

After World War II, the GI Bill provided returning servicemen with free college tuition, as well as cheap home loans and business loans. It was called "the GI Bill of Rights." Studies have shown that the GI Bill paid for itself seven times over and is one of the most lucrative investments the government ever made.

The government could do that again - without increasing taxes or the federal debt. It could do it by recovering the power to create money from Wall Street and the financial services industry, which now claim a whopping 40 percent of everything we buy.

An Updated Constitution for a New Millennium

Banks acquired the power to create money by default when Congress declined to claim it at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Constitution says only that "Congress shall have the power to coin money [and] regulate the power thereof." The founders left out not just paper money, but checkbook money, credit card money, money market funds, and other forms of exchange that make up the money supply today. All of them are created by private financial institutions, and they all come into the economy as loans with interest attached.

Governments - state and federal - could bypass the interest tab by setting up their own publicly owned banks. Banking would become a public utility, a tool for promoting productivity and trade rather than for extracting wealth from the debtor class.

Congress could go further: it could reclaim the power to issue money from the banks and fund its budget directly. It could do this, in fact, without changing any laws. Congress is empowered to "coin money," and the Constitution sets no limit on the face amount of the coins. Congress could issue a few one-trillion dollar coins, deposit them in an account and start writing checks.

The Fed's own figures show that the money supply has shrunk by $3 trillion since 2008. That sum could be spent into the economy without inflating prices. Three trillion dollars could go a long way toward providing the jobs and social services necessary to fulfill an Economic Bill of Rights. Guaranteeing employment to anyone willing and able to work would increase gross domestic product, allowing the money supply to expand even further without inflating prices, since supply and demand would increase together.

Modernizing the Bill of Rights

As Bob Dylan said, "The times they are a-changin'." Revolutionary times call for revolutionary solutions and an updated social contract. Apple and Microsoft update their programs every year. We are trying to fit a highly complex, modern monetary scheme into a constitutional framework that is 200 years old.

After President Roosevelt died in 1945, his vision for an Economic Bill of Rights was kept alive by Martin Luther King. "True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

King, too, has now passed away, but his vision has been carried on by a variety of money reform groups. The government as "employer of last resort," guaranteeing a living wage to anyone who wants to work, is a basic platform of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). An MMT web site declares that by "[e]nding the enormous unearned profits acquired by the means of the privatization of our sovereign currency ... [i]t is possible to have truly full employment without causing inflation."

What was sufficient for a simple agrarian economy does not provide an adequate framework for freedom and democracy today. We need an Economic Bill of Rights, and we need to end the privatization of the national currency. Only when the privilege of creating the national money supply is returned to the people can we have a government that is truly of the people, by the people and for the people."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Disgraceful Disparity

Princeton sociologist Devah Pager shares the disturbing results of her recent investigation:

In these experiments, which took place in Milwaukee and New York City, I hired young men to pose as job applicants, assigning them resumes with equal levels of education and experience, and sending them to apply for real entry-level job openings all over the city. Team members also alternated presenting information about a fictitious criminal record (a drug felony), which they “fessed up to” on the application form. During nearly a year of fieldwork, teams of testers audited hundreds of employers, applying for a wide range of entry level jobs such as waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers, and customer service representatives.
The results of these studies were startling. Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.
Racial disparities have been documented in many contexts, but here, comparing the two job applicants side by side, we are confronted with a troubling reality: Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job.
The young black men posing as job applicants in this study were bright college kids, models of discipline and hard work; and yet, even in this best case scenario, these applicants were routinely overlooked simply on the basis of the color of their skin. The results of this study suggest that black men must work at least twice as hard as equally qualified whites simply to overcome the stigma of their skin color.

This study was conducted just before the great financial meltdown of 2008. I highly doubt that the situation has improved in this time of very high unemployment. I can remember my disgust as a young man when I saw overt displays of racism. In the following decades we have made some progress, yet there is still so much to do. I'm sure a lot of these hiring managers don't think of themselves as racist. They would be quick to denounce the KKK or other hate groups. Yet the impact of their prejudice is as harmful as shouting vulgar epithets. Many African Americans have overcome great obstacles to finding employment and to advancing in their careers. It is horribly unfair that anyone should have to start out with such an oppressive disadvantage.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Robert Reich hits the nail on the head

Here's my favorite Clinton cabinet member's take on OWS, that he published over at HuffPost:

"A combination of police crackdowns and bad weather are testing the young Occupy movement. But rumors of its demise are premature, to say the least. Although numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests the movement is growing.

As importantly, the movement has already changed the public debate in America.

Consider, for example, last week's Congressional Budget Office report on widening disparities of income in America. It was hardly news -- it's already well known that the top 1 percent now gets 20 percent of the nation's income, up from 9 percent in the late 1970s.

But it's the first time such news made the front page of the nation's major newspapers.

Why? Because for the first time in more than half a century, a broad cross-section of the American public is talking about the concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

Score a big one for the Occupiers.

Even more startling is the change in public opinion. Not since the 1930s has a majority of Americans called for redistribution of income or wealth. But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an astounding 66 percent of Americans said the nation's wealth should be more evenly distributed.

A similar majority believes the rich should pay more in taxes. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, even a majority of people who describe themselves as Republicans believe taxes should be increased on the rich.

I remember the days when even raising the subject of inequality made you a "class warrior." Now, it seems, most Americans have become class warriors.

And they blame Republicans for stacking the deck in favor of the rich. On that New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of respondents said Republican policies favor the rich (28 percent said the same of Obama's policies).

The old view was anyone could make it in America with enough guts and gumption. We believed in the self-made man (or, more recently, woman) who rose from rags to riches -- inventors and entrepreneurs born into poverty, like Benjamin Franklin; generations of young men from humble beginnings who grew up to became president, like Abe Lincoln. We loved the novellas of Horatio Alger, and their more modern equivalents -- stories that proved the American dream was open to anyone who worked hard.

In that old view, being rich was proof of hard work, and lack of money proof of indolence or worse. As Herman Cain still says "if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself."

But Cain's line isn't hitting a responsive chord. In fact, he's backtracked from it (along with much of the rest of what he's said).

A profound change has come over America. Guts, gumption, and hard work don't seem to pay off as they once did -- or at least as they did in our national morality play. Instead, the game seems rigged in favor of people who are already rich and powerful -- as well as their children.

Instead of lionizing the rich, we're beginning to suspect they gained their wealth by ripping us off.

Mitt Romney is defensive about his vast wealth (reputed to total a quarter of a billion). He's reverted to scolding his audiences on the campaign trail for "attacking people based on heir success."

The old view was also that great wealth trickled downward -- that the rich made investments in jobs and growth that benefitted all of us. So even if we doubted we'd be wealthy, we still gained from the fortunes made by a few.

But that view, too, has lost its sheen. Nothing has trickled down. The rich have become far richer over the last three decades but the rest of us haven't. In fact, median incomes are dropping.

Wall Street moguls are doing better than ever -- after having been bailed out by the rest of us. But the rest of us are doing worse. CEOs are hauling in more than 300 times the pay of average workers (up from 40 times the pay only three decades ago), as average workers lose jobs, wages, and benefits.

Instead of investing in jobs and growth, the super rich are putting their money into gold or Treasury bills, or investing it in Brazil or South Asia or anywhere else it can reap the highest return.

Meanwhile, it's dawning on Americans that in the real economy (as opposed to the financial one) our spending is vital. And without enough jobs or wages, that spending is drying up.

The economy is in trouble because so much income and wealth have been going to the top that the rest us no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services we would produce at or near full employment.

The jobs depression shows no sign of ending. Personal disposable income, adjusted for inflation, was down 1.7 percent in the third quarter of this year -- the biggest drop since the third quarter of 2009. Housing prices have stalled, home sales are down.

The only reason consumer spending rose in September is because we drew from our meager savings -- mostly in order to pay medical bills, health insurance, and utilities. That's the third month of savings declines, according to the Commerce Department's report last Friday.

This can't and won't continue. Savings are now down to 3.6 percent of personal disposable income, their lowest level since the recession began.

Americans know a rigged game when they see one. They understand how much money is flowing into politics from the super rich, big corporations, and Wall Street --- in order to keep their taxes low and entrench their privileged position.

The Occupy movement is gaining ground because it's hitting a responsive chord. What happens from here on depends on whether other Americans begin to march to the music -- and organize."
You tell 'em, feisty short guy!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Accepting the Unacceptable

An alert reader clued me in to an interesting study that has yet to make a big splash in the media. The study, conducted by Cornell's Peter Enns and University of Tennessee's Nathan Kelly, compared attitudes towards progressive taxation and welfare spending in times of higher and lower income inequality.

New research findings add complexity to the basic assumption that humans act in their own economic self-interest. By analyzing hundreds of survey questions from 1952 to 2006, Peter Enns, assistant professor of government, and Nathan Kelly of the University of Tennessee found that as inequality rises, low income individuals' attitudes toward redistribution become more conservative. Their paper appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Political Science.
"It's a bit of a conundrum," Enns admits.
The researchers also examined public opinion data on the question: Should government increase spending on welfare, keep it the same or decrease it? "As inequality rose, the high- and low-income respondents on average become less supportive of spending on welfare," Enns said. "And this is not because low-income people are unaware of inequality; our results show they are more aware of it than most people."
The researchers found that higher levels of household income inequality in the United States generate more conservative public opinion. "We broke down pubic opinion by income group and found the high- and low-income groups responding in a similar way, both becoming more conservative when inequality rises," Enns said. "We were very surprised to observe that the self-reinforcing aspect of inequality holds for high- and low-income groups, and how they move together in parallel over time."
Previous economic models predicted that low-income individuals will consistently support government redistribution. "If anything, when inequality rises, low-income people should become more supportive, and that's not what we observe in the data," said Enns, a member of the Institute for Social Sciences theme project on Judgment, Decision Making, and Social Behavior and faculty director of the Cornell Prison Education Program.
Conversely, when inequality declines, the public becomes more liberal. The public works projects and other social programs following the Great Depression helped promote decades of declining inequality into the 1960s, Enns said. "And then there's a shift," he said. "Once inequality starts going back up, it appears to be perpetuated by public opinion. If inequality declined in the United States, our results suggest that then the public would become more supportive of government redistribution."
Nevertheless, people in the lowest income group favor more redistribution than those in the highest income group.

How can we explain this? Part of it may be simply a reflection of greater conservative domination of media after Reagan's first election. Yet I have another theory. People tend to approach the world with a rational or magical bias. When the reality you observe seems to follow reasonable rules, then it makes sense to apply rational solutions to problems. When the world is way out of balance, then praying for miracles seems the best approach. When your uncle goes to college on the G.I. bill, prospers, and builds a house, then you might feel part of an economic and political system that can work for all. When the Reagan government starts saying that ketchup is a vegetable, and raises payroll taxes while cutting income taxes on the wealthy, then alienation begins. When CEOs, who used to make about 40 times what their workers made, start making more than 400 times an average worker's salary, then lower-income folks see they no longer live in the bosses' world. Capitalism is now obviously an obscure and impenetrable system, lavishing huge rewards on an ever smaller ruling class, while leaving most working folks to fall behind. The mythology of stardom replaces the belief in the Great Society. Rap stars from the projects, country music stars from the farm, these become heroic figures, while making good money as a union shop steward recedes as an impossible dream. Better to buy lottery scratch tickets than study engineering. Who can trust government to do the right thing with our tax dollars? Better to imagine the possibility of sudden, improbable success. In this magical world, the rich will someday take care of the poor without a government middleman, and we'll all live happily ever after. The sad truth is, without any faith that the system cares, then transferring some money from the rich to the government seems futile. Only those of us who still feel connected to the system might worry about making it work better. Sadly, many of the rich and powerful, who could do something about it, seem content to see income inequality get even worse.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How tax havens are killing us...

Here's Ken Thomas over at dk yesterday:

"When taxes are reduced for one group, government must raise taxes on someone else, run bigger deficits, or cut programs. Tax havens, jurisdictions with strong secrecy provisions and low or zero tax rates, are one way that rich individuals and corporations reduce their tax payments, both legally and illegally. A recent book by Ronen Palan, Richard Murphy, and Christian Chavagneux summarizes the latest work on tax havens and contends that they form a central part of the global economy. Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works presents data that 30% of multinational corporations' foreign direct investment passes through tax havens like Bermuda, Ireland, or Luxembourg, overwhelmingly for tax purposes. Tax havens, then, are far more central to the global economy than we generally suppose.
How much does this cost average taxpayers? In a separate report, Murphy calculated that wealthy individuals have roughly $11.5 trillion in tax havens, which at a 7.5% rate of return would generate $860 billion in income each year. If, on average, these people faced a 30% marginal tax, that would come to $255 billion annually that the rich avoid in taxes. Needless to say, this is a best guess, since the value of these assets is not disclosed publicly. See his report for more details on how he generated those figures.
That's just individuals. The situation with corporations is murkier still. While corporations set up subsidiaries in tax havens for the obvious purpose of reducing their tax, Palan et al. say there is no solid estimate of the overall cost of these activities. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2008 that of the largest 100 U.S. companies, 86 had subsidiaries abroad, and 83 of these had subsidiaries in tax havens. Bank of America had 115 subsidiaries in tax havens, including 59 in the Cayman Islands. Citigroup had a whopping 427 tax haven subsidiaries, including 91 in Luxembourg and 90 in the Cayman Islands. Goldman Sachs only had 29, 15 in the Cayman Islands.
I mention the Cayman Islands because President Obama has long been a critic of tax havens, saying during the 2008 campaign of Ugland House in the Cayman Islands, "Either this is the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world. And I think the American people know which it is." Palan et al. report that the Caymans are the sixth largest financial center in the world, with $1.9 trillion in assets in December 2007. However, since taking office, the President has not succeeded in passing a version of the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which in its original form he co-sponsored with Carl Levin, Norm Coleman, Ken Salazar and Sheldon Whitehouse.
Tax havens could not exist without the financial services industry, which provides the tax lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who make it possible for the rich and corporations to reduce their taxes. Collectively, they and their clients are the 1%. Occupy Wall Street has highlighted the abuses benefiting them, and tax havens are most definitely part of their pattern of abuse. Tax havens have proved amazingly resilient, however, and it will take sustained political pressure to shut them down."

So, Leftsiders... can we start putting some "sustained political pressure" on our elected officials?