AlterNet.org: RJ Eskow http://farfallino.alternet.org/authors/rj-eskow en Bill Clinton's Out of Touch Economically: That's a Big Deal http://farfallino.alternet.org/bill-clintons-out-touch-economically-thats-big-deal <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The country deserves better.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/b1b39ed62beb639394d5a76ae0de3785c9cb4556_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>He's eloquent, he's popular ... and he's out of touch with the daily lives of most Americans. Bill Clinton's economic worldview spells trouble, both for a party that's still reeling from defeat and for a nation where millions of people struggle just to make ends meet.</p><p>Hillary Clinton, the heavily-favored contender for the Democratic nomination, has made Bill's presidency and her role in it an essential part of her resume. But "Clintonism," the Wall Street-friendly economic ideology of a bygone era, has passed its sell-by date. The former president's latest remarks confirm that.</p><p>The 1990s are over. This is a different country now, both economically and politically. But the presumptive nominee's partner and most important colleague still holds views which are sharply at odds with both economic reality and the nation's mood. That's a big deal. His opinions could have a profound impact on our political and economic future.</p><p>If Hillary Clinton disagrees with the former president's views, she hasn't said so.</p><p><strong>Positive vibrations.</strong></p><p>When Bill Clinton speaks on economic issues, he reveals a deep wellspring of neoliberal belief and a profound detachment from the lived experience of most Americans. His <a href="http://variety.com/2014/scene/news/bill-clinton-republican-takeover-senate-usc-1201351093/">latest slip</a> took place in a speech he gave this week at the University of Southern California. After some bland bromides ("The Internet has done a lot of good") and self-helpish sounding political advice ("what you gotta have is an agenda and get things done"), the former president said this:</p><blockquote><p>"We are in the best shape of any big country in the world in the next 20 years. No big country that is running this well is as young as we are, as diverse as we are or as technological as we are. In the next 20 years, there will be bad days, there will be bad headlines, but you can keep the trend lines positive."</p></blockquote><p>The millions of Americans who struggle with falling wages, shrinking personal wealth, and rising healthcare costs would presumably be astonished to hear this sunny assessment of their future.</p><p><strong>Negative trend lines.</strong></p><p>It's true that, for the extremely wealthy, the "trend lines" are positive indeed. For the rest of the nation, not so much. Consider some of these very negative trends:</p><p>Real wages have fallen since 2007 for <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/08/27/a-look-at-income-inequality-hour-by-hour/?mod=WSJBlog">eight out of every ten American</a>s, rising only for the wealthiest among us. This follows nearly five decades of stagnant or falling wage growth for the middle class, as wealth inequality <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/the-middle-class-and-work_b_5826810.html">continues to rise</a>.</p><p>Wealth inequality increases since 1979 cost median-income households an average of $9,500 in 2010, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jared-bernstein/costs-of-inequality_b_5437723.html">Jared Bernstein</a>. When adjusted for inflation, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/upshot/the-great-wage-slowdown-looming-over-politics.html?_r=1&amp;abt=0002&amp;abg=1">median income has fallen</a> $2,100 since the start of the Obama presidency and $3,600 since 2001.</p><p>As a result, the middle class is disappearing. In 1970, 55 percent of households were in the "middle tier" of income. A recent <a href="http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/22/the-lost-decade-of-the-middle-class/">Pew study</a> showed that this figure had fallen to 45 percent by 2013. All the wealth which the middle class accumulated in the growth years after 1940 is now <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/20/middle-class-wealth-shrinks-1940s_n_6014874.html">gone</a>.</p><p><strong>Wall Street Weak.</strong></p><p>The trend lines are pointing the wrong way on Wall Street, too. Banks are increasingly financing <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304422704579574184101045614?tesla=y&amp;cb=logged0.8149186108662596">highly-leveraged corporate takeovers</a>, and regulators are expressing concerns about the risk. Meanwhile, the bank fraud which exacerbated our financial problems <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/10/29/prosecutors-wrestling-with-wall-streets-repeat-offenders/?_r=0">goes on</a> despite slap-on-the-wrist settlements in which bank CEOs agreed to end it, according to prosecutors.</p><p>For his part, Clinton mockingly dismissed calls for banker prosecutions. Despite the fact that economists and law enforcement experts agree that punishment is essential to prevent future crimes, Clinton encouraged Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to go easy on crooked bankers, <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/9/bill-clinton-shocks-quip-goldman-sachs-ceo-slit-hi/#ixzz3J0Ptv7vd">saying</a> "[I] could take <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/topics/lloyd-blankfein/">Lloyd Blankfein</a> into a dark alley and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again."</p><p>Unsurprisingly, the authoritative financial journalist <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/11/why-wall-street-loves-hillary-112782_full.html#.VGUwjtbHKgT">William D. Cohan</a> tells us that Wall Street is thrilled by Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Why wouldn't they be? They know her, they've rewarded her with lavish <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/05/hillary-clinton-goldman-sachs-private-equity-white-house-2016">speaking fees</a>, and the financial industry has made the <a href="http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/6/hillary-bill-clintonwealthspeakerfees.html">Clintons and their associates</a> very wealthy.</p><p>For their part, corporations are <a href="http://boingboing.net/2014/10/21/american-businesses-devour-the.html#more-339356">jacking up their share prices</a> at the expense of employees - and their own future viability - in order to enrich their executives. (For his part, Bill Clinton suggested that CEOs will soon voluntarily give up the pursuit of profit as a top priority in favor of - an idea <a href="http://ourfuture.org/20140925/bill-clintons-corporate-fantasy?utm_source=progressive_breakfast&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=pbreak">Robert Borosage</a> rightly dismissed as Clinton's "corporate fantasy.")</p><p>According to a recent analysis by Goldman Sachs, corporate profits grew <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-24/goldman-2013-corporate-profits-grew-five-times-faster-than-wages">five times faster than wages</a> last year. Meanwhile, back in the real world ...</p><p><strong>Depressing realities.</strong></p><p>This income crisis is also contributing to a retirement crisis. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/08/07/almost-20-percent-of-people-near-retirement-age-have-no-retirement-savings/">20 percent of Americans</a> have nothing saved up for retirement. (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/teresa-ghilarducci/the-retirement-crisis-is_b_5910144.html">Teresa Ghilarducci</a> has more.) Far fewer corporations offer secure pension plans, 401(k) plans are miserly, and many "centrist" politicians (including Bill Clinton) have touted plans for cutting Social Security - the only reliable form of post-retirement or post-disability income they have left. (And the waiting list for Social Security disability hearings is <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/10/18/the-biggest-backlog-in-the-federal-government/?hpid=z7">worsening</a>, not improving, with nearly a million people now waiting to have their appeals heard.)</p><p>A <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/13/pf/health-care-insurance-premium-out-of-pocket/index.html">new study</a> predicts that Americans with employer-sponsored healthcare will pay 55 percent more in out-of-pockets costs in 2015 than they did in 2010.</p><p><a href="http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-09-12/america-s-poor-deeper-in-debt-than-ever">Household debt is soaring</a> for the bottom 25 percent of Americans as they struggle to pay their bills. One-third of American households are living a "<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/03/21/living-paycheck-to-paycheck-its-not-just-for-the-poor/?wpisrc=nl_wonk">paycheck-to-paycheck existence</a>."</p><p>Total student debt has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/the-middle-class-and-work_b_5826810.html">more than doubled</a> since 2007, and the amount owed by the average borrower now exceeds $27,000. Less than half of all student borrowers are current on their payments, and a <a href="http://products.gallup.com/168857/gallup-purdue-index-inaugural-national-report.aspx">recent study</a> (must complete a form in order to download report) shows that significant student debt harms the borrower's physical and mental well-being.</p><p>Oh, and those jobs numbers we've been celebrating? A report from the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-income-inequality-20140812-story.html">Conference of Mayors</a> found that the jobs created since the financial crisis pay 23 percent less than the ones they replaced.</p><p>Perhaps inevitably, another <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140930132832.htm">recent study</a> found that Americans are more depressed today than they were in the 1980s, with depression rates and psychosomatic depression symptoms (sleep loss, etc.) higher for all age groups studied: teens, young adults, and adults.</p><p>These Americans, and the others among the vast majority who have suffered economic setbacks, aren't likely to be swayed by Bill Clinton's sunny optimism - or by a candidate or a party which echoes this misguided economic worldview behind it.</p><p>No wonder three out of four people say <a href="http://www.fa-mag.com/news/survey--three-out-of-four-americans-say-the-recession-is-still-on-19278.html">the recession's still going on</a>. It is - for them.</p><p>The trend lines are good for some people, of course. The <a href="http://www.nber.org/papers/w20625">amount of wealth</a> held by the richest 0.01 percent of Americans hasn't been this high since 1916. The top 0.1 percent (that's one-thousandth of the population) now <a href="http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2014/11/daily-chart-2?fsrc=scn/fb/te/bl/ed/somearemoreequalthanothers">possess as much wealth</a> as the bottom 90 percent. Corporate profits hit <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/03/27/3420092/corporate-profits-record-2013/">record highs</a> last year, and the stock market's <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2014/11/13/stocks-thursday/18956147/">skyrocketing numbers</a> continue to break one record after another.</p><p><strong>Selling "austerity lite."</strong></p><p>Is Bill Clinton worried? He did manage to express concern recently — for corporate executives who feel our corporate tax system is "<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/bill-clinton-executives-think-the-us-tax-code-is-crazy-2014-9">crazy</a>." His proposed solution is a system of "tax reform" that would lower taxes on US corporations, even though the taxes they actually pay (as opposed to statutory rates) are at or near historic lows.</p><p>Even as Hillary maintained a tactical silence on key issues, Bill kept right on talking. He appeared at several "Fiscal Summits," a series of "buy-partisan" propaganda events funded by billionaire Pete Peterson, the conservative opponent of Social Security and Medicare who took an early interest in Clinton's own career. There, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/bill-clinton-boehner-and_b_1520025.html">Bill joined with the likes of John Boehner and Paul Ryan</a> in an attempt to sell the American people on cuts to these programs.</p><p>(But then, Clinton has yet to acknowledge <a href="http://npc.umich.edu/publications/policy_briefs/brief28/policybrief28.pdf">a new analysis</a>which shows that the welfare reform bill he signed turned out to be a destructive failure which has inflicted needless harm on millions of lower-income Americans, especially children).</p><p>Bill and Hillary have used their Clinton Global Initiative as a public-relations platform for Goldman Sachs and other bad corporate actors, and to sponsor deceptive campaigns like Peterson's "Up to Us" essay contest on ... you guessed it: the Federal deficit. But Bill Clinton soft-pedals the anti-spending rhetoric of the Peterson crowd even as he uses his considerable skills of persuasion to sell it. You could call it "austerity lite."</p><p>The former president has <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/finance/206099-clinton-fires-back-at-critics-of-financial-regulatory-policies">fiercely defended</a> his Administration's destructive Wall Street deregulation policies, even as the Obama Administration's economic team continues to be dominated by the disciples of former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Citigroup CEO Robert Rubin (Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls it "<a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/04/the-citigroup-clique-106125.html#.VGUyQNbHKgS">the Citigroup clique</a>") The Rubin team, whose policies proved so destructive to the economy, would undoubtedly have its contract renewed under a Hillary Clinton presidency.</p><p>Few people in public life, outside of the Republican Party, are as publicly tone-deaf about the struggles of the American majority than Bill Clinton. Earlier this year he <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-clintons-fight-back-signaling-a-new-phase-in-2016-preparations/2014/05/14/49b7d99a-db7e-11e3-8009-71de85b9c527_story.html">dismissed concerns about inequalit</a>y by saying "You can say, 'Well, inequality has still increased,' because the top 1 percent did better, but I don't think there's much you could do about that unless you want to start jailing people."</p><p><strong>The road ahead.</strong></p><p>Clinton knows better - or should. Inequality is the product of a number of policy choices - choices which can be reversed. How could we reverse the inequality trend without jailing people just for being rich? There are dozens of policies which could help. Here are just a few:</p><p>We could take steps to reduce the financialization of the economy, in which a non-productive banking sector takes a growing share of corporate profits without producing very many jobs.</p><p>We could reinstate Glass-Steagall, break up the big banks, and improve on the Dodd-Frank law to discourage risky banking. (And we could prosecute crooked bankers while we're at it, instead of pretending all that fraud - which has led to many billions of dollars in fines - committed itself.)</p><p>We could create regulations to discourage predatory stock-manipulation practices for short-term executive gain.</p><p>We could create a better system of taxation, with higher corporate rates and higher top rates for ultra-high-earners. Economic studies show that the ideal top rate for billionaires would be somewhere between 73 percent and 90 percent.</p><p>We could pass the Employer Free Choice Act and other legislation to encourage the growth of unions, which have played <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/26/1301209/-The-tight-link-between-unions-the-middle-class-and-inequality-in-two-charts#">an essential role</a> in reducing inequality and increasing middle-class wealth. We could encourage the unionization of low-wage workers, raise the minimum wage, and offer tax incentives for labor-intensive enterprises.</p><p>We could invest in our crumbling infrastructure, which needs trillions in repairs.</p><p>We could lift the cap on Social Security taxes so that millionaires and billionaires pay more, gradually (and slightly) increase payroll taxes by a few dollars a month for the rest of us, and increase its benefits.</p><p><strong>Don't buy it.</strong></p><p>Instead of fighting for these much-needed reforms, Bill Clinton mocks those who support them with facile and ugly comments about "slit throats" and "jailing people." He brushes aside the day-to-day trials of millions of Americans, dismissing them as nothing more than a few "bad headlines." He pitches a glossy-brochure version of our national condition instead of addressing the real-life problems many people face every day.</p><p>The trend lines are undoubtedly positive for the former president and his social circle. But the false reality Bill Clinton is trying to sell us would discourage meaningful action from the powerful while ringing profoundly false to the rest of the nation.</p><p>Don't buy it.</p><p>We're told that Hillary Clinton's candidacy has a number of demographic and political trends working in its favor. But if she shares Bill's views, as seems to be the case, she will be bucking those trends by selling bromides and evasions instead of insights and solutions. That kind of candidacy would almost certainly drag the rest of the ticket down, regardless of the presidential race's outcome.</p><p>Then there are the implications for the future. if Hillary Clinton embraces this worldview and wins, the same Citigroup-clique thinking which has contributed so much to our current difficulties would continue to guide our economy for another four or eight years.</p><p>It isn't working today. It won't work tomorrow. The country deserves better.</p> Sat, 15 Nov 2014 09:41:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Curbing Wall St. Project 1027145 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy News & Politics bill clinton hillary clinton economy wall street Let’s Nationalize Amazon and Google: Publicly Funded Technology Built Big Tech http://farfallino.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/lets-nationalize-amazon-and-google-publicly-funded-technology <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">They&#039;re huge and ruthless and define our lives. They&#039;re close to monopolies. Let&#039;s make them public utilities.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/a945dcf37af45001f9fe3b3e82759e69cdf81ee9.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>They’re huge, they’re ruthless, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives. Corporations like Amazon and Google keep expanding their reach and their power. Despite a history of abuses, so far the Justice Department has declined to take antitrust actions against them. But there’s another solution.</p><p>Is it time to manage and regulate these companies as public utilities?</p><p>That argument’s already been made about broadband access. In her book “Captive Justice,” law professor <a href="http://business.time.com/2013/01/09/is-broadband-internet-access-a-public-utility/">Susan Crawford</a> argues that “high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago.”</p><p>Broadband as a public utility? If not for corporate corruption of our political process, that would seem like an obvious solution. Instead, our nation’s wireless access is the <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/21/5434450/cost-of-american-wireless-data-speed-compared-to-the-world">slowest and costliest in the world</a>.</p><p>But why stop there? Policymakers have traditionally considered three elements when evaluating the need for a public utility: production, transmission, and distribution. Broadband is transmission. What about production and distribution?</p><p>The Big Tech mega-corporations have developed what Al Gore calls the “<a href="http://pando.com/2014/06/11/al-gore-says-silicon-valley-is-a-stalker-economy/">Stalker Economy</a>,” manipulating and monitoring as they go. But consider: They were created with publicly funded technologies, and prospered as the result of indulgent policies and lax oversight. They’ve achieved monopoly or near-monopoly status, are spying on us to an extent that’s unprecedented in human history, and have the potential to alter each and every one of our economic, political, social and cultural transactions.</p><p>In fact, they’re already doing it.</p><p>Public utilities? It’s a thought experiment worth conducting.</p><p><strong>Big Tech was created with publicly developed technology.</strong></p><p>No matter how they spin it, these corporations were not created in garages or by inventive entrepreneurs. The core technology behind them is the Internet, a publicly funded platform for which they pay no users’ fee. In fact, they do everything they can to <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/12/06/1292951/amazon-avoids-taxes/">avoid paying their taxes</a>.</p><p>Big Tech’s use of public technology means that it operates in a technological “commons,” which they are using solely for its own gain, without regard for the public interest. Meanwhile the United States government devotes considerable taxpayer resource to protecting them – from patent infringement, cyberterrorism and other external threats.</p><p><strong>Big Tech’s services have become a necessity in modern society.</strong></p><p>Businesses would be unable to participate in modern society without access to the services companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook provide. These services have become public marketplaces.</p><p>For individuals, these entities have become the public square where social interactions take place, as well as the marketplace where they purchase goods.</p><p><strong>They’re at or near monopoly status – and moving fast.</strong></p><p>Google has 80 percent of the search market in the United States, and an even larger share of key overseas markets. <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/06/05/google-passes-microsoft-in-u-s-browser-market-share/">Google’s browsers have now surpassed Microsoft’s</a> in usage across all devices. It has monopoly-like influence over online news, as <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/172378/googles-monopoly-news">William Baker</a> noted in the Nation. Its YouTube subsidiary dominates the U.S. online-video market, with nearly double the views of its closest competitor. (Roughly <a href="http://finance.yahoo.com/news/youtube-totally-dominates-u-online-104430692.html">83 percent</a> of the Americans who watched a video online in April went to YouTube.)</p><p>Even Microsoft’s <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/20/4751516/ballmer-calls-google-a-monopoly">Steve Ballmer</a> argued that Google is a “monopoly” whose activities were “worthy of discussion with competition authority.” He should know.</p><p>As a social platform, Facebook has no real competitors. Amazon’s <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2014/02/10/amazon-vs-book-publishers-by-the-numbers/">book business</a> dominates the market. E-books are now 30 percent of the total book market, and its Kindle e-books account for 65 percent of e-book sales.  Nearly one book in five is an Amazon product – and that’s not counting Amazon’s sales of physical books. It has become such a behemoth that it is able to command discounts of more than 50 percent from major publishers like Random House.</p><p><strong>They abuse their power.</strong></p><p>The bluntness with which Big Tech firms abuse their monopoly power is striking. Google has said that it will soon begin <a href="http://www.dailydot.com/entertainment/youtube-block-indie-labels-subscription-service/">blocking YouTube videos</a> from popular artists like Radiohead and Adele unless independent record labels sign deals with its upcoming music streaming service (at what are presumably disadvantageous rates).   Amazon’s war on publishers like Hachette is another sign of Big Tech arrogance.</p><p>But what is equally striking about these moves is the corporations’ disregard for basic customer service. Because YouTube’s dominance of the video market is so large, Google is confident that even frustrated music fans have nowhere to go. Amazon is so confident of its dominance that it retaliated against Hachette by removing order buttons when a Hachette book came up (which users must find maddening) and lied about the availability of Hachette books when a customer attempts to order one. It also altered its search process for recommendations to freeze out Hachette books and direct users to non-Hachette authors.</p><p>Amazon even suggested its customers use other vendors if they’re unhappy, a move that my Salon colleague <a href="http://www.salon.com/2014/06/01/amazons_scorched_earth_campaign_why_the_internet_giant_started_a_war/">Andrew Leonard</a> described as “nothing short of amazing – and troubling.”</p><p>David Stratfield of the New York Times asked, “<a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/16/amazon-vs-hachette-when-does-discouragement-become-misrepresentation/?_php=true&amp;_type=blogs&amp;hpw&amp;rref=technology&amp;_r=0">When does discouragement become misrepresentation?</a>” One logical answer: When you tell customers a product isn’t available, even though it is, or rig your sales mechanism to prevent customers from choosing the item they want.</p><p>And now Amazon’s using <a href="http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-amazon-time-warner-hachette-20140611-story.html">some of the same tactics</a> against Warner Home Video.</p><p><strong>They got there with our help.</strong></p><p>As we’ve already noted, Internet companies are using taxpayer-funded technology to make billions of dollars from the taxpayers – without paying a licensing fee. As we <a href="http://www.salon.com/2014/04/25/amazons_hypocritical_tax_scheme_how_exploiting_a_massive_loophole_helped_it_destroy_bookstores/">reported</a>earlier, Amazon was the beneficiary of tax exemptions that allowed it to reach its current monopolistic size.</p><p>Google and the other technology companies have also benefited from tax policies and other forms of government indulgence. Contrary to popular misconception, Big Tech corporations aren’t solely the products of ingenuity and grit. Each has received, and continues to receive, a lot of government largess.</p><p><strong>The real “commodity” is us.</strong></p><p>Most of Big Tech’s revenues come from the use of our personal information in its advertising business. Social media entries, Web-surfing patterns, purchases, even our private and personal communications add value to these corporations. They don’t make money by selling us a product. <em>We</em> are the product, and we are sold to third parties for profit.</p><p>Public utilities are often created when the resource being consumed isn’t a “commodity” in the traditional sense. “We” aren’t an ordinary resource. Like air and water, the value of our information is something that should be publicly shared – or, at a minimum, publicly managed.</p><p><strong>Our privacy is dying … or already dead.</strong></p><p>“We know where you are,” says Google CEO <a href="http://pando.com/2013/12/16/googles-for-profit-surveillance-problem/">Eric Schmidt</a>. “We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”</p><p>Facebook <a href="http://venturebeat.com/2014/06/12/heres-how-to-defend-yourself-from-facebooks-new-browser-spying-campaign/">tracks your visits</a> to the website of any corporate Facebook “partner,” stores that information, and uses it to track and manipulate the ads you see. Its mobile app also has a new, <a href="http://www.news.com.au/technology/facebook/users-slam-creepy-new-feature-that-allows-facebook-to-listen-in/story-fnjwvn4n-1226940183022">“creepy” feature</a> that turns on your phone’s microphone, analyzes what you’re listening to or watching, and is capable of posting updates to your status like “Listening to Albert King” or “Watching ‘Orphan Black<em>.’</em>”</p><p>Google tracks your search activity, an activity with a number of disturbing implications. (A competing browser that does not track searches called DuckDuckGo offers an <a href="http://donttrack.us/">illustrated guide</a> to its competitors’ practices.)  If you use its Chrome browser, Google tracks your website visits too (unless you’re in “private” mode.)</p><p>Yasha Levine, who is tracking corporate data spying in his “<a href="http://pando.com/tag/surveillance-valley/">Surveillance Valley</a>” series,<a href="http://pando.com/2014/01/27/google-and-encryption-why-true-user-privacy-is-googles-biggest-enemy/">notes</a> that “True end-to-end encryption would make our data inaccessible to Google, and grind its intel extraction apparatus to a screeching halt.” As the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian points out: “It’s very, very difficult to deploy privacy protective policies with the current business model of ad supported services.”</p><p>As Levine <a href="http://pando.com/2013/12/22/a-peek-into-surveillance-valley/">notes</a>, the widely publicized revelation that Big Data companies track rape victims was just the tip of the iceberg. They also track “anorexia, substance abuse, AIDS and HIV … Bedwetting (Enuresis), Binge Eating Disorder, Depression, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Gonorrhea, Homelessness, Infertility, Syphilis … the list goes on and on and on and on.”</p><p>Given its recent hardball tactics, here’s a little-known development that should concern more people: Amazon also hosts 37 percent of the nation’s <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-web-services-market-share-2014-6">cloud computing services</a>, which means it has access to the inner workings of the software that runs all sorts of businesses – including ones that handle your personal data.</p><p>For all its protestations, Microsoft is no different when it comes to privacy. The camera and microphone on its <a href="http://www.dailydot.com/gaming/xbox-one-kinect-removed/">Xbox One</a> devices were initially designed to be left on at all times, and it refused to change that policy until purchasers protested.</p><p>Privacy, like water or energy, is a public resource. As the Snowden revelations have taught us, all such resources are at constant risk of government abuse.  The Supreme Court just<a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/06/25/231431/supreme-court-bans-warrantless.html?sp=/99/200/365/544/">banned warrantless searches of smartphones</a> – by law enforcement. Will we be granted similar protections from Big Tech corporations?</p><p><strong>Freedom of information is at risk.</strong></p><p>Google tracks your activity and customizes search results, a process that can filter or distort your perception of the world around you.  What’s more, this “personalized search results” feature leads you back to information sources you’ve used before, which potentially narrows our ability to discover new perspectives or resources.  Over time this creates an increasingly narrow view of the world.</p><p>What’s more, Google’s shopping tools have begun using “paid inclusion,” a pay-for-play search feature it once condemned as “evil.” Its response is to say it prefers not to call this practice “paid inclusion,” even though its practices <a href="http://searchengineland.com/google-ignores-ftc-definition-of-paid-inclusion-128192">appear to meet</a> the Federal Trade Commission’s definition of the term.</p><p>As for Amazon, it has even manipulated its recommendation searches in order to retaliate against other businesses, as we’ll see in the next section.</p><p><strong>The free market could become even less free.</strong></p><p>Could Big Tech and its data be used to set user-specific pricing, based on what is known about an individual’s willingness to pay more for the same product? Benjamin Schiller of Brandeis University wrote a <a href="http://benjaminshiller.com/images/First_Degree_PD_Using_Big_Data_Jan_27,_2014.pdf">working paper</a> last year that showed how Netflix could do exactly that. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Business/supermarkets-introduce-personalized-pricing/story?id=21010246">Grocery stores</a> and other retailers are already implementing technology that offers different pricing to different shoppers based on their data profile.</p><p>For its part, Amazon is introducing a phone that will also tag the items around you, as well as the music and programs you hear, for you to purchase – from Amazon, of course. Who will be purchasing the data those phones collect about <em>you</em>?</p><p><strong>They could hijack the future.</strong></p><p>The power and knowledge they have accumulated is frightening. But the Big Tech corporations are just getting started. Google has photographically mapped the entire world. It intends to put the world’s books into a privately owned online library. It’s launching balloons around the globe that will bring Internet access to remote areas – on its terms. It’s attempting to create artificial intelligence and extend the human lifespan.</p><p>Amazon hopes to deliver its products by drone within the next few years, an idea that would seem preposterous if not for its undeniable lobbying clout. Each of these Big Tech corporations has the ability to filter – and alter – our very perceptions of the world around us. And each of them has already shown a willingness to abuse it for their own ends.</p><p>These aren’t just the portraits of futuristic corporations that have become drunk on unchecked power. It’s a sign that things are likely to get worse – perhaps a lot worse – unless something is done. The solution may lie with an old concept. It may be time to declare Big Tech a public utility.</p> Tue, 08 Jul 2014 22:38:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Salon 1010385 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Economy tech 10 Reasons Americans Should be Wary of Rand Paul's Libertarianism, Especially Young People http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/10-reasons-americans-should-be-wary-rand-pauls-libertarianism-especially-young-people <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Sen. Rand Paul is trying to attract millennials. Don&#039;t fall for it!</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-04-02_at_12.13.28_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p dir="ltr">Republican Senator Rand Paul has been making a big play for millennials lately, most notably by taking his civil liberties pitch to colleges around the country. Paul has got the right idea when he says his party must “evolve, adapt or die” (although I think the first two are virtually the same thing). <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/rand-paul-privacy-university-of-california-berkeley-104834.html#ixzz2xacMr75I">Katie Glueck</a> of Politico wrote that “The Kentucky senator drew a largely friendly reception at the University of California-Berkeley as he skewered the intelligence community."<br /><br />Sen. Paul spoke of “dystopian nightmares” and added that “your rights, especially your right to privacy, are under assault.” Paul <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/rand-paul-privacy-university-of-california-berkeley-104834.html">also said</a> he perceives “fear of an intelligence community that’s drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power.” </p><p dir="ltr">Virtually all of the other politicians taking that stand come from the left side of the political spectrum. They include figures like independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. Rand Paul is not like these other defenders of civil liberties.</p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul, like his father, prefers to package his fairly old-school brand of economic conservatism under the trendier name of “libertarianism.” That’s not just a labeling change. It also means Paul has paired his retrograde economic ideas with a very outspoken stance against militarism and the espionage state. It’s a mixture that Paul hopes can make inroads with groups that are not traditionally Republican voters.</p><p dir="ltr">Paul’s play for millennials was almost inevitable. As a recent Pew study <a href="http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/">reported</a>, that generation’s disaffection with the two-party system appears to be at record levels. Fifty percent of millennials polled said that they do not associate themselves with either party, which is the highest percentage recorded thus far. It’s also a 10 point jump from their equivalent age group’s level of political affiliation only seven years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">But Rand Paul gravely misunderstands the nature of that political disaffection. Yes, millennials feel alienated toward political and other institutions. They have a right to feel that way. As <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/03/24/millennials-didnt-abandon-our-institutions-our-institutions-failed-them/">Joshua Holland</a> says, millennials didn’t abandon these institutions. The institutions abandoned them.</p><p dir="ltr">But Rand Paul and libertarianism are not the answer. His economic strategy can be summed up in a quota used for one of his bills: “remove the shackles of big government by reducing taxes, regulations, and burdensome union work requirements.”</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, more of the same conservative philosophy that got us in this mess in the first place. Here are 10 reasons why millennials should be extremely wary of the senator from Kentucky.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>1. His philosophy of deregulation created your jobs problem.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul loved to preach the gospel of deregulation. He went so far as to proclaim that Obama was putting his “boot heel” on the neck of—get this—British Petroleum. Why? Because BP was being asked to bear part of the cost for the oil spill it created.</p><p dir="ltr">That’s right. Rand Paul believes “regulation” is evil, even when it’s only asking a reckless private corporation to clean up its own messes.</p><p dir="ltr">Wall Street deregulation crashed the economy in 2008. As a result, the millennial generation is entering the job market at the worst time in modern history. Millennials are facing record levels of unemployment and under-employment. What’s Rand Paul’s solution? More of the same.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2. He doesn’t believe in jobs programs.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Those of us who are fighting for jobs programs and infrastructure investment—two things that would help the millennial generation significantly—have a fierce opponent in Rand Paul. Paul believes government spending is inherently bad, and tax cuts are inherently good. There are jobs proposals that target millennials for assistance. Rand Paul is against them.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>3. He thinks “tax cuts” create jobs.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There’s a simple answer to that, once we remember that the wealthy and corporations are paying lower taxes than at any time in modern history.</p><p dir="ltr">So where are the jobs?</p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul’s solution is to eliminate the income tax altogether. That would be a red letter day for billionaires, millionaires and corporations. It would spell the end of vital services for the rest of us, in everything from public health to military defense.</p><p dir="ltr">Create jobs? Not so much.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>4. Those “burdensome union work requirements” gave us Saturdays and Sundays off.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Without unions we would still be working six or seven days a week with no overtime pay. The weekend as we know it wouldn’t exist if we lived in Rand’s world.</p><p dir="ltr">Neither would paid vacations, the minimum wage, health and disability benefits, and quite a few other things a lot of working people count on to help them get by.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>5. Civil rights for African Americans and other minorities wouldn’t exist.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul believes businesses have the right to discriminate against minorities, or against pretty much anybody, because he thinks that’s part of their First Amendment rights.</p><p dir="ltr">The First Amendment, as most of you may know, reads as follows: “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.”</p><p dir="ltr">There’s nothing in there about “businesses that want to force women like Rosa Parks to stand at the back of the bus when there are empty seats in the front of the bus,” or “lunch counters that won’t serve black folks.”</p><p dir="ltr">No, the First Amendment doesn’t say that. But Rand Paul thinks it does. He also says he would’ve voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here’s a newsflash for Sen. Paul: Millennials come in all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations. They value their rights just as much as Americans of other generations do.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>6. He wants to eliminate Social Security.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Because, you know, the “free market” has done so well in protecting Americans’ financial security when they’re disabled or elderly.</p><p dir="ltr">Many millennials are collecting Social Security survivor benefits, like Rand Paul compatriot Paul Ryan did. Or disability benefits. Or they have parents and grandparents who are collecting retirement benefits.</p><p dir="ltr">Most millennials will live to collect those benefits themselves—if Rand Paul doesn’t get to them first.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>7. He wants to eliminate Medicare, Obamacare, and even the private insurance you get through your employer.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">“The fundamental reason why Medicare is failing is why the Soviet Union failed,” said Sen. Paul. “Socialism doesn't work.”</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately for Paul, Medicare is not failing. It has lower overhead than private insurance, lower cost than private insurance, and a lower rate of inflation than private insurance. It is the most successful, and the most popular insurance program in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">But as flawed as it is, private health insurance is critical to a lot of people’s physical and financial health. Rand Paul’s so right wing he doesn’t even like that. “We need to get insurance out of the way and let the consumer interact with their doctor the way they did basically before World War II," said Paul. (A lot of people didn’t interact with doctors at all before World War II; the morbidity and mortality statistics show it.)</p><p dir="ltr">Speaking as an ophthalmologist, which he is, Paul also said this: “If you think you have the right to healthcare, you are saying basically that I am your slave.” Sen. Paul is not just a conservative, he someone with a poor grasp of concepts like slavery. Healthcare providers are in fact paid under all systems of public and private insurance. They are also free to change professions, take a day off, set their own schedules, and do any number of things that are not associated with the practice of slavery.</p><p dir="ltr">Millennials need to know that medical care will be available when they need it. That’s not just something they want. It’s a right.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>8. He wants to eliminate <em>Roe v. Wade</em> and have a woman’s right to choose decided by politicians at the state level.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Said Paul, “I would introduce and support legislation to send <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade">Roe v. Wade</a> back to the states.”</p><p dir="ltr">Why? So that decisions about what a woman does with her body can be made by politicians like that guy in Virginia wanted mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds for any woman who wanted to terminate a pregnancy?</p><p dir="ltr">It may come as a surprise to Sen. Paul to learn that a great many millennials are, in fact, women.</p><p dir="ltr">The Supreme Court has established that a woman’s right to choose is constitutionally protected. Since then that right has been eroded in a thousand different ways at the state level. Rand Paul would remove this right forever, turning this fundamental principle of autonomy into a campaign issue to be decided by right-wing career politicians.</p><p dir="ltr">Way to go, “Mr. Civil Liberties.” And about that …</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>9. He’s not as strong and advocate for civil liberties as he seems.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">At least Rand Paul is uncompromising in his defense of civil liberties, right? Well, not so much. Consider this quote:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">“I'm not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they've been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they've been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn't be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that's really an offense that we should be going after— they should be deported or put in prison.”</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">“It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic,” says Rand Paul. But it’s clear that he’s only talking about a certain kind of terrorism. A lot of Tea Party leaders have “threatened the violent overthrow of the government.” Does Rand Paul think “they should be deported or put in prison”? Or are his brand of civil liberties only for white conservatives?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>10. He’s picked the wrong oppressor.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul’s brand of libertarian believes that “liberty” is freedom from an oppressive government. But in a democracy the government is us. The real oppressors in today’s economic and political system are the corporations which increasingly dominate all aspects of our public and private lives.</p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul doesn’t have much to say about that. We applaud his stand against drone murders by the US government, but where is his stand against the kind of espionage Amazon and other corporations could use through the use of unregulated drones in the United States? We admire his stand against the NSA, but where is an equally courageous stand against invasions of privacy by corporations like Google? (For more on that topic, see our <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sl2vn3Nkr0w">interview with Yasha Levine</a>.)</p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul would have us turned against the “oppression” of the Democratic process, while turning us over to the real oppression of the Corporate State. That’s not fighting for liberty. It’s fighting for corporations.</p><p dir="ltr">Underneath all the freedom jargon, Rand Paul’s pushing the same kind of economic conservatism that has increasingly dominated our political discourse over the last 40 years. He’s resolutely opposed to all of the civil rights advances of the last 50 years, and to any of the government interventions that could make things better for millennials and other Americans now.</p><p dir="ltr">Rand Paul wants more of the same tax cuts we’ve already given to him billionaires and corporations. He wants more of the deregulation that ruined the economy in 2008 and has caused so much harm to the environment.</p><p dir="ltr">How’s that working out for you?</p><p dir="ltr">Feel free to admire Rand Paul’s stands on civil liberties and military action, as selective as those stands may be. Then look for politicians who represent the full spectrum of your moral and economic beliefs. Better yet, become those politicians. We need your talents and your energy, to make right what previous generations (in the Paul family and elsewhere) have gotten so tragically wrong.</p> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 09:03:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 977819 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy libertarians 6 Examples of Wildly Overpaid Rich Folks (And the Teachers We Could Have Gotten for That Money) http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/6-examples-wildly-overpaid-rich-folks-and-teachers-we-could-have-gotten-money <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The money certain types of people command in the marketplace tells us something about our society.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-03-19_at_10.52.41_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p dir="ltr">Economic outcomes aren’t produced in a vacuum. They reflect the politics, culture and values of the people behind them. Today those forces aren’t saying good things about us as a society. Think about it: since when is a failed Silicon Valley executive worth nearly 2,000 times as much as a teacher?</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, sadly, that’s the kind of economy we live in. The money certain types of people command in the marketplace tells us something about our society—and nowadays, it’s not telling us much that’s very good.</p><p dir="ltr">Here are six examples of individual incomes which demonstrate that our priorities have gone completely out of whack.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>1. Number Two at Yahoo! gets $109 million for 15 months of failure.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Okay, run this by me one more time: A human resources expert told Forbes magazine that nine-figure severance packages for Number Twos are “as scarce as golden hen’s teeth.” But Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer still offered a very sweet one to her short-lived second-in-command, Henrique De Castro. It’s worth an estimated $64.5 million, according to <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_24929825/departing-yahoo-exec-may-collect-up-109-million">published reports</a>, which means that De Castro’s unsuccessful 15-month tenure will net him an estimated $109 million. De Castro’s golden parachute is “<a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2014/01/16/fired-yahoo-execs-109m-golden-parachute-was-one-of-the-biggest-ever/">one of the biggest ever</a>,” according to Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici. </p><p dir="ltr">De Castro’s severance package, which can be seen as a guarantee against personal failure, would have been considered large even for the Number One at a large corporation. It’s especially generous given the fact that the New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/technology/yahoo-seeks-to-regain-its-touch.html?hpw&amp;rref=technology">reports</a> that “Mr. de Castro was particularly ill-suited for the job, according to ad-industry executives, analysts and people who worked with him at Google and Yahoo.”</p><p dir="ltr">It paid off extremely well for De Castro, whose parachute unfurled less than 15 months after he was hired. As Bercovici notes, De Castro was paid $244,000 each day of his Yahoo! employment, including weekends and his final months, during which he was reportedly rarely on the premises.</p><p dir="ltr">The average <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/15/how-much-teachers-get-paid-state-by-state/">teacher’s salary</a> in the United States was $56,383 last year. De Castro’s severance package was more than 1,933 times that amount. He was paid more to go away than America’s teachers are paid to show up—and to grade papers on their weekends, too.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2. Former Google CEO is reportedly worth $8 billion (and change).</strong></p><p dir="ltr">How did executive worth get so inflated in Silicon Valley? Consider <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_25068267/google-awards-former-ceo-eric-schmidt-100-million">this</a>: de Castro’s (and Mayer’s) former boss Eric Schmidt is reportedly worth $8 billion after serving as Google’s CEO for a number of years. Schmidt famously earned a $1 salary and negligible bonuses while he was CEO, but clearly he was being compensated more than fairly.</p><p dir="ltr">In his current, more nebulous position as “executive chairman,” Schmidt has twice been awarded $100 million in stock. Last month he was also given $6 million in cash.</p><p dir="ltr">Schmidt’s a bright guy. But $8 billion and change in net worth? Why, exactly? Schmidt didn’t invent Google. Sergey Brin and Larry Page did. He ran it reasonably well, and deserved to make money for that. But $8 billion? For 10 years’ work?  </p><p dir="ltr">On the “teacher scale” (and with a little estimating for inflation), that’s more than 15,000 times what the average teacher would have made over the same 10-year period.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>3. $19 billion to buy WhatsApp.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">WhatsApp duplicates what instant messaging does, but independently of phone carriers. It’s a good idea, but it’s not revolutionary. While it was well-implemented, by all accounts, its design and execution didn’t require any technical breakthroughs.</p><p dir="ltr">Good, competent engineers and managers deserve a good payday for the work. And the WhatsApp team deserves some extra payback, karmic as well as financial, for refusing to accept ads and taking a firmly pro-privacy and anti-Big Data stance. “People need to differentiate us from companies like Yahoo! and Facebook that collect your data and have it sitting on their servers,” said CEO Jan Koum. “We want to know as little about our users as possible.” (They tell us that won’t change—at least for now.)</p><p dir="ltr">But the 55-person WhatsApp team received a lot more than a bright payday and a promising rebirth. At least a dozen business sites have described this deal as “<a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-confirmed-facebooks-19-billion-whatsapp-deal-is-jawdropping-20140302,0,5388152.story#axzz2vhoOpvL5">jaw-dropping</a>.” Facebook paid a record-shattering $19 billion for the company, despite the fact that the app is unoriginal in design and would be pretty easy to replicate. What wouldn’t be easy to replicate is the user base WhatsApp has developed: 450 million people are paying 99 cents per year to use the service.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words: The biggest chunk of that payday went, not for the app or the team, but for the users—people like you and me. We could discuss the wisdom and fairness of that purchase all day long.</p><p dir="ltr">But there’s another reason this staggering sum was paid out: Facebook, like much of the Silicon Valley, has too much money for its own good. Why else would it pay roughly 40 times accompanies annual earnings in order to acquire it? Bill Gates, who has many reasons to remain on friendly terms with Zuckerberg, struggled to be diplomatic. ”I hope it works out for him,” <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/16/bill-gates-zuckerberg_n_4974909.html">said</a> Gates. “Not everybody would’ve done it, I’ll say that for sure.”</p><p dir="ltr">You could have paid nearly half a million teachers for a year with this money. That would also provide an enormous stimulus to our struggling economy. Instead it’s going to a company with 55 engineers. Something is seriously wrong somewhere.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>4. Zuckerberg.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That name says it all. Why wouldn’t Mark Zuckerberg pay $19 billion for WhatsApp? He probably thinks he’s worth $28.5 billion, which is what Forbes magazine <a href="http://www.forbes.com/profile/mark-zuckerberg/">estimates</a> is his net worth. Sure, he’s an aggressive and smart businessman. But he didn’t invent the Facebook concept, and he had no idea what this website for new college students would eventually become.</p><p dir="ltr">If you think Mark Zuckerberg is worth more than 523,207 teachers—who, at an average class size of 20, could teach 10 ½ million kids for a year—then your priorities are out of whack too.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>5. Hedge funders.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Hedge funders bet against companies’ success at least as much as they bet for them. Their profession has contributed to the explosive growth of non-productive financial transactions as a percentage of corporate profits, a trend that has robbed the economy of jobs and growth.</p><p dir="ltr">And they make a lot of money for it. (Details <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2014/02/26/the-highest-earning-hedge-fund-managers-and-traders/">here</a>.) Hedge funder Steve Cohen made $2.3 billion last year. Since that’s just one year’s income, it didn’t hurt him too much when he paid $1.8 billion to settle criminal insider trading charges. In fact, he came out half a billion ahead last year.</p><p dir="ltr">David Tepper made $3.5 billion last year. That puts him ahead of Zuckerberg on an annualized basis. John Paulson made nearly $2 billion last year. James Simon, although officially retired, made $1.1 billion. Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates underperformed compared to the industry, but he made nearly $1 billion anyway.</p><p dir="ltr">The top five hedge funders made a total of $13.4 billion among them, or nearly a quarter million teacher-years, in a single year.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>6. Quinn Gillespie, lobbyists</strong>.</p><p dir="ltr">Our unjust and inequitable economic system is only made possible because lobbyists have so much influence in Washington. Politicians and political operatives know they can look forward to a rewarding afterlife in the lobbying universe if they play their cards right—and most of them do.</p><p dir="ltr">While it’s not the largest lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie’s origins reflect the bipartisan nature of the lobbying machine. It almost sounds like a sitcom: one’s a Republican, one’s a Democrat, and together they’ll make millions!</p><p dir="ltr">Jack Quinn was a Clinton insider. Ed Gillespie is a former chairman of the Republican national committee, Bush insider, and cofounded Crossroads GPS with Karl Rove. (Gillespie is on hiatus to run for the U.S. Senate in Virginia.) Their firm made a total of $160 million <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-top-lobbying-firms-2012-8?op=1">in 2012</a>, of which $4,030,000 was reported as official lobbying.</p><p dir="ltr">Their income is small potatoes compared to the massive sums the billionaires on this list have been pulling down. But they are making millions off a profession that was once described as “public service.” That’s disgraceful.</p><p dir="ltr">$4.030,000 for lobbying comes out to 71 ½ teachers. The city of Washington DC could sure use those teachers. What’s more, those teachers would be doing social good, not social harm.</p><p dir="ltr">Lobbyists may not be billionaires, but they make our billionaire-generating and billionaire-coddling system possible. And they do it at the expense of our social values. They may not be the unproductive billionaires who are draining the lifeblood from our economy, but lobbyists like Quinn and Gillespie are the wind beneath the billionaires’ wings.</p> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 07:42:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 972124 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy wealth What America Would Look Like If Libertarians Got Their Way http://farfallino.alternet.org/what-america-would-look-if-libertarians-got-their-way <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What if you cut all benefits? What if all of public life were a giant competition? What libertarianism would look like in real life. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-12-25_at_1.39.47_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>These four libertarian/conservative dystopias are offered, as Rod Serling used to say in "The Twilight Zone," "for your consideration."</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The “Libertarian/Conservative”</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’ve qualified my previous writings on libertarianism with disclaimers explaining that I’m addressing a specific, popular subset of libertarian thought. But I’ve still run afoul of dozens of people who say, “I’m a libertarian and I don’t think those things.” I’ve still received comments like those from <a href="http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2013/09/bringing-back-feudalism-is.html">David Brin</a>, who correctly notes that I’m not addressing libertarians like Friedrich Hayek in my criticism.</p><p dir="ltr">True. But Hayek ain’t in the saddle these days. Ayn Rand is leading the posse, to the extent any intellectual figure is. But I'll put my disclaimer upfront this time: I acknowledge that, as libertarian-friendly writer <a href="http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/danaher20131218">John Danaher</a> puts it, “’libertarianism’ has come to denote a broad, often fractious, group of political theories.”</p><p dir="ltr">I suppose it’s only fitting that a philosophy celebrating competing markets would, to a certain extent, be a set of competing markets itself.  </p><p dir="ltr">But it seems even clearer that a “libertarian” in today’s political environment is almost always someone who ascribes to certain core philosophies: He abhors government, hates taxation, and is hostile to collective action on behalf of the less fortunate. Name any prominent modern libertarian—Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Peter Thiel, Rand Paul—and they are likely to fit this description.</p><p dir="ltr">These figures represent a singular and increasingly dominant libertarian vision. To avoid future confusion, I'll give their brand of thought an admittedly imperfect name: “libertarian/conservative.” It is that vision, and their future, which I address here—and it's a frightening future.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>1. What if you cut all benefits?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">You’ve heard it from Sen. Rand Paul and other conservatives this winter: unemployment benefits increase unemployment. It’s an enormously destructive idea, though absurd on its face. It's like the argument that hospitals create sick people; after all, there are so many of them there.</p><p dir="ltr">We usually consider such thinking "primitive" in modern societies.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet that's exactly what libertarian/conservatives are arguing when they say that unemployment benefits increased or extend unemployment. There is no credible evidence to suggest that this is true. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that unemployment is caused by other factors, including poor consumer demand and lack of business confidence.</p><p dir="ltr">Right now there are nearly three job seekers for every job opening. That means there are no jobs available for two out of the three. They will not “go out and find work” once their unemployment benefits stop. They will simply plunge into deeper economic misery. They will become like accident victims who are denied hospital care because it would “foster an attitude of dependency.”</p><p dir="ltr">But, as absurd and unkind as this thinking is, there’s something even more frightening about it: This kind of thinking never ends. If you believe that unemployment benefits cause unemployment, you’ll cut those benefits off. That could throw millions of people onto the welfare rolls. But if you believe that welfare causes dependency, you’ll cut those benefits off, too. That will leave people utterly dependent on programs like heating oil subsidies, food assistance, and even homeless shelters.</p><p dir="ltr">But if you believe that those programs create dependency, too....</p><p dir="ltr">It never stops: Close down the homeless shelters. Shut down the Salvation Army. Make it illegal to throw a starving person a coin or toss a blanket over them as they lay on the sidewalk. This logic only ends one way: in a hellish dystopia where the underclass is starving, homeless and dying in droves.</p><p dir="ltr">If that seems melodramatic, ask a libertarian/conservative this question: <em>When will you know that your theory is wrong?</em></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2. Nothing but competition</strong>.</p><p dir="ltr">This idea lies at the heart of libertarian and conservative thinking. The argument says that human beings excel when they are competing with one another for dominance. The free market is the best economic system in the world, we’re told, because private enterprises compete with one another for market share.</p><p dir="ltr">This is the thinking behind the movement to privatize government services. In fact, it’s the very same thinking which led the conservative American Enterprise Institute to design the set of policies the world now knows as “Obamacare.”</p><p dir="ltr">It’s also wrong. We saw that in the ignominious failure of libertarian Eddie Lambert, the Sears CEO who drove his company into the ground with the misguided notion that internal competition among his company’s departments would cause each of them to function more efficiently. That proved to be an enormously frustrating experience for customers, and ignominious failure for the corporation as a whole.</p><p dir="ltr">These ideas, along with a number of other misguided notions, have caused Sears stock to lose <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com.au/lampert-hedge-fund-facing-redemptions-2013-12">more than half its value</a>. (Lynn Parramore has a good roundup of the Lambert fiasco <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/12/10/ayn_rand_loving_ceo_destroys_his_empire_partner/">here</a>.) Eddie Lambert’s biggest mistake was believing that, in the words of <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-07-11/at-sears-eddie-lamperts-warring-divisions-model-adds-to-the-troubles">Bloomberg BusinessWeek</a>, “If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly… they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.”</p><p dir="ltr">Wrong. It turns out that people who are motivated to act out of self-interest will do whatever it takes to enrich themselves, even if that means damaging the entire society—in this case, the Sears “society”—in the process. Sure, competition “works,” sometimes, for some things. But the Sears experiment showed us that it works best when there is a fabric which knits the competing parts together into something more than the sum of its parts.</p><p dir="ltr">We call that something a <em>nation.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Eddie Lambert’s Sears is a nation in microcosm. When its common purpose was lost, the entire enterprise collapsed. Eddie Lambert taught us that that when people act solely out of self-interest, they act destructively toward others, and hurt themselves as well. Everybody loses.</p><p dir="ltr">Lambert wanted Sears to teach the nation a lesson, and it did. Selfishness is one of the roads to dystopia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>3. Free-enterprise zones.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The concept of the free-enterprise zone was first popularized by Republican Jack Kemp. Kemp, a football star-turned-House member and vice-presidential candidate (with Bob Dole in 1996), adopted the concept, also known as “urban enterprise zones,” as a campaign theme during his initial rise and a 1988 presidential campaign. It’s based on the belief that economically disadvantaged areas—inner cities or impoverished rural areas—would be revitalized if regulations, minimum wage requirements and tax levels were eased.  </p><p dir="ltr">This concept is based on two separate but related theories. The first is that employers are likely to be attracted to these struggling areas by the lower cost of doing business there. But a deeper, less frequently articulated theory cuts even closer to theoretical libertarianism: that regulations and taxes are themselves economy-killers. Free-enterprise zones, it was thought, could therefore become laboratory experiments which would demonstrate how much better an economy functions without them.</p><p dir="ltr">It didn’t work out that way.  A few of the zone’s tools, such as targeted tax breaks, have provided temporary relief in some instances. But overall the experiment has been a singular failure. As one roundup of research on zones put it: “Most of the more sophisticated studies show no increases in employment or per capita income.”</p><p dir="ltr">Instead, the one consistent finding across all studies appears to be this: zones typically made money for one or more corporations, but the promised social benefit in jobs and income never materialized.</p><p dir="ltr">That hasn’t killed the zone idea, or the many variations on its theme. Statewide initiatives, offered as tax breaks or other incentives, have been equally unsuccessful. The most spectacularly unsuccessful track record in this regard belongs to New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has offered <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/finance/gov-new-jersey-tax-incentive-payoff.html">nearly $2 billion</a> in tax incentives to spur job growth. The result? Job growth in New Jersey lags behind most of the nation, while hundreds of millions in tax breaks went to giant casinos and to large corporations Prudential, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Verizon, and Panasonic.</p><p dir="ltr">The zone idea is truly dystopian in scope, and that’s the idea which refuses to die. The premise is this: The regions inhabited by low-income brown, black, or white citizens should become places where basic worker protections are nullified, and the financial obligations of the wealthy are relaxed even more than they are today.  </p><p dir="ltr">If this idea is pursued, the zones will become Third World nations within nations in the North American landmass, de facto colonies which have been insourced for corporate convenience. They’ll belch out poisons in their unregulated mines, farms and factories; under-bid one another for jobs and underpay workers while placing them in increasingly unsafe conditions; drain revenue from local, state and federal government; and lower the overall standard of living.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>4. The absolute rights of private ownership.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I turn again to Sen. Rand Paul on this issue, because he expresses these ideas clearly and directly (just as he does when I agree with him, on issues of civil liberties and drone warfare), although he has been known to recant somewhat afterwards.</p><p dir="ltr">Paul said that he <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/04/howard-university-rand-paul-falsely-claims-he-didnt-oppose-civil-rights-actpaul-i-civil">opposed the Civil Rights Act</a> because, he said, "I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.”  </p><p dir="ltr">Here’s the dystopian dimension of Sen. Paul’s argument: Governments exist to uphold the law and, at the federal level, to uphold the Constitution. The Civil Rights Law serves both purposes. If “private ownership” is a barrier against these governmental prerogatives, where does it end? If you can’t outlaw discrimination on private property, what can you outlaw: Fraud? Theft? Murder?</p><p dir="ltr">In Paul Randian libertarianism there is no limit to the deeds a business owner can commit inside the confines of his own business. Even if laws against theft and murder are upheld, that would almost certainly mean an end to all workplace safety laws, much less minimum wage laws. As with free-enterprise zones, workers (and anyone in the vicinity) could be subject to the dangers of a Bhopal or a Bangladesh clothing factory, and government would be powerless to stop it.  </p><p dir="ltr">This time the mayhem wouldn’t be limited to some designated places on the map. The entire country would be placed at the legal, economic and environmental mercy of property holders. The nation would be divided into Owners and Others, with the Others given no ability to enforce societal values—even matters of national security—over the Owners.</p><p dir="ltr">The counter-argument will often be made that “it can be settled with the free market.” Sen. Paul made that argument himself, when he said he “would not go” to the Woolworth’s which refused to seat African Americans during the civil rights struggle. But people lack alternatives, in an economy increasingly dominated by a few corporations. And they’re unlikely to hear about most of these crimes and injustices, in an era where corporate media are also under “private ownership.”</p><p>The unaided needy. Selfishness run riot. A North America dotted with Third World colonies. And a blighted landscape where Others are subjugated to Owners.</p> Wed, 25 Dec 2013 10:31:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 940664 at http://farfallino.alternet.org libertarianism How Elizabeth Warren's Privacy Rules Will Fight the Corporate Snoops http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/6-ways-sen-warrens-no-credit-checks-hiring-bill-helps-all-us <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Warren and her colleagues are fighting to chop down barriers for job seekers. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1374777881965-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>This week Sen. Elizabeth Warren and six colleagues introduced the <a href="http://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&amp;id=305">Equal Employment for All Act</a>, which would make it illegal for employers to disqualify job applicants based on their credit scores. It's an admirable and important bill which deserves our support. It also gives us an opportunity to have a broader discussion about the kind of society we hope to become.</p><p>Here are six reasons to support a bill which will help all of us in the end:</p><p><strong>1. It aids the long-term unemployed.</strong></p><p>Long-term unemployment is at historically high levels in this country, and policymakers have done far too little for this hard-hit group of Americans. They have experienced the ongoing loss of their way of life - often accompanied by the loss of their homes, their belongings, and their sense of self-worth.</p><p>Long-term unemployment is almost always accompanied by unpaid bills, which drastically lower a person's credit score. Today that lower credit score can render a person unemployable, leading to the kinds of heartbreaking stories described in a New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/business/employers-pull-applicants-credit-reports.html?pagewanted=1&amp;_r=0">article </a>on the subject earlier this year.</p><p>Instead of alleviating the problem of long-term unemployment, the use of credit scores in hiring makes it worse. On a societal level, that's indefensible. And on an individual level, it's inhumane.</p><p><strong>2. It begins to right a terrible injustice.</strong></p><p>One of the great injustices of the past five years is the way that Wall Street, whose fraud caused the current economic crisis, still holds enormous power over its victims.</p><p>We've seen that injustice played out in continued foreclosures, as banks evict families because their homes are worth less than the outstanding mortgage loan - thanks to the banks who created a housing bubble - and because many homeowners are unable to find adequate work as a result of the bank-created jobs recession.</p><p>We've seen that injustice reflected in credit card debt and other loans, whose costs have soared as the result of overly complicated contracts with hidden provisions.</p><p>And we see that injustice in the spectacle of Americans who are unable to find work as the result of foreclosures, soaring borrowing costs - and a credit-scoring system created for the banks.</p><p>This bill begins to end that pattern of injustice, by ending at least one of these practices. It's a start.</p><p><strong>3. It also begins to level the playing field between Wall Street and ordinary Americans.</strong></p><p>Financial institutions enjoy extraordinary, even unprecedented power over individual Americans. A consumer's relationship with a bank is no longer even the semblance of a contract between autonomous equals. It's an asymmetrical relationship in which one party - the bank - can unilaterally change the terms of the agreement, in many cases leaving the consumer with no recourse.</p><p>Sen. Warren's brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, goes a long way towards leveling this relationship. But financial institutions and other corporations still hold excessive power over individuals. One of their most powerful tools is the credit score.</p><p>The greatest tool consumers have against corporations and banks is, or should be, the ability to withhold payment when a contract isn't honored. But a bad credit score hurts consumers in a number of ways. It makes it harder for them to find housing, it makes borrowing more expensive, and many consumers understand that it will make it harder for them to find a job - whether they are searching for one now, or (like most Americans) consider it likely that they'll be looking for one at some point in the future.</p><p>Because of this leverage, many people are forced to passively accept injustices from misbehaving corporations. If they withhold payment, even in cases where a product was defective or services not rendered, they may find themselves unemployable.</p><p>This imbalance of power allows banks and other corporations to keep acting unjustly. That needs to change.</p><p><strong>4. It reduces the ongoing encroachment of Big Data on our daily lives.</strong></p><p>The computer crowd likes to say that "Information wants to be free." We've learned now that it actually wants to be very, very expensive - and it's not interested in whether you remain free. Big Data is a self-sustaining and self-expanding institution which seeks to maximize profits by finding new markets for the information it gathers.</p><p>The credit score industry is an excellent case in point. FICO and its competitors began gathering credit information for lending institutions. Once they created systems for collecting the data, their only remaining challenge was a sales challenge: who else will buy it?</p><p>That's how Big Data becomes big.</p><p>The employer market is enormous. Even in recessionary times like these, hundreds of thousands of hiring decisions are being made. Each involves multiple candidates. Cracking this market was a major "score" for the credit score industry. And if the social and human costs of entering this new market were enormous - well, that's not their problem, is it?</p><p>It may not be their problem. But it's ours. And in solving it, we can also send a signal to the corporate world and the body politic: Big Data doesn't run things - people do.</p><p><strong>5. This credit information isn't even useful.</strong></p><p>Our infatuation with Big Data can also lead us to ascribe more wisdom to it than it actually possesses. This is a perfect example of that phenomenon in action. The only academic research we could find on the topic, published in the <a href="http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/mgr-15-2-106.pdf">Psychologist-Manager Journal</a> in 2012, concluded that "Predictors extracted from applicant credit reports ... had no relationship with either performance appraisal ratings or termination decisions."</p><p>Not a "weak" relationship. Not an "unproven" relationship. No relationship.</p><p>This practice creates needless misery. This bill will stop it.</p><p><strong>6. It reaffirms our values as a society.</strong></p><p>If credit information doesn't predict employee performance, why use it at all? Whether consciously or not, its only purpose becomes cultural, not economic. It becomes a way for people who have jobs to avoid those who don't. It's a way of stigmatizing the unemployed, as if they are carriers of a terrible contagion.</p><p>We're often tempted to look away when we see the hungry or the sick on the street. This practice does something similar, by keeping the bearers of bad luck away before it rubs off on us, too.</p><p>But that's just superstition, and it's not who we are. At our best, we're a society whose citizens help one another in times of need. We're a society that believes in equal opportunity. We're a society that believes in the right to privacy. And we're a society that believes people who want to work should be able to work.</p><p>Sen. Warren deserves credit for introducing this bill. So do her Senate co-sponsors: Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). And so does Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-9), who introduced a similar bill in the House in 2011.</p><p>The people who are being hurt by these credit checks want to improve their own lives. It's time to let them. We'll be improving our own lives too.</p> Thu, 19 Dec 2013 12:10:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Curbing Wall St. Project 938798 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy wall st. How Right-Wingers Are Stepping Into An Obamacare Trap http://farfallino.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/hypocrisy-dogma-and-sabotage-rights-stepping-obamacare-trap-0 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The U.S. Right destroys its credibility in two easy steps: first, author the earliest iteration of the Affordable Care Act, then attack the administration responsible for its implementation.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/hypocrite.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div class="toggle-group target hideOnInit" data-toggle-group="story-13547778"><p>You don’t have to be an unqualified fan of the Affordable Care Act to recognize the lunacy of most Republican objections to it. From “death panels” to “a loss of liberty,” there’s only one consistent through-line to most of their objections: They come from Republicans, they’re directed at a Democratic president, and they’re irrational.</p><p>The president’s self-imposed deadline for fixing the website has arrived and, while it’s still far from perfect, the complaints are likely to become broader once again. The Republicans may not realize it, but that way lies danger.</p><p>More than once, Democrats have made the mistake of taking victory laps for a plan with very real problems. But the Republicans are setting traps for themselves—traps they may find it difficult to escape, especially if Democrats are shrewd enough to take advantage of them.</p><p>This shortsightedness already wounded them once, in the 2012 election, when candidate Mitt Romney was forced to attack a program that was nearly identical to the one that <em>Gov.</em> Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts. It looked absurd—because it was. Romney’s campaign was probably always a lost cause, but that didn’t help.</p><p>For the Republicans, there’s more where that came from.</p><p>The trouble starts with their gleeful rubbing of hands over the Healthcare.gov rollout. Gloating about the website is unwise for a couple of reasons. First, the website’s design and implementation was conducted by a private government contractor, CGI Global, not by government employees. There are many lessons to be learned from the website’s problems, but one of them clearly seems to be this: The privatization of government services, a key goal for the Republican Party, can work very poorly.</p><p>Accounts of the Obamacare implementation read like a how-to manual in inept contracting with outside corporations, and the administration deserves to take a hit for that. But the problem isn’t that <em>government</em> created the website. A larger part of the problem lies in the fact that it used a private contractor to do the job.</p><p>Worse, the administration chose to use a company whose specialty was not healthcare administration but “government contracting.” The fact that this is now an industry of its own, and one with enormous growth, shows just how far the privatization trend has come on the federal level.</p><p>That’s a problem. Professional government contractors know how to game the government procurement system for maximum profits, and those profit margins are added to the cost for taxpayers.</p><p>CGI Global, the all-purpose government contractor that handled the website, is a case in point. Even though the Obama administration has made a point of saying government should end no-bid contracts, this project—the most important of Obama’s presidency—was offered on a no-bid contract.</p><p>As someone who once led a company that contracted with government agencies, I can tell you that somebody “worked the system” extremely well on this one. Unfortunately, the “system” works much better for the contractors than it does for the public. Every time Republicans crow about the website’s problems, another thought should be implanting itself in the public’s mind: privatizing government services is a very bad idea.</p><p>The challenge for Republicans runs even deeper than that. They’ve been mocking the very concept behind the Obamacare exchanges. It’s a concept that made the rollout extremely difficult. The idea was that government would create an electronic “marketplace” where people could comparison-shop for health insurance. This, we were told, would keep costs down by employing market forces and competition.</p><p>This also happens to be an excellent way to describe the Republicans’ plan for Medicare. The description is still up at Rep. Paul Ryan’s website:</p><blockquote><p>Beginning in 2024, for those workers born in 1959 or later, Medicare would offer them a choice of private plans competing alongside traditional fee-for-service option <em>(sic)</em>on a newly created <strong>Medicare Exchange</strong> <em>(emphasis ours)</em> … The Medicare Exchange would provide all seniors with a competitive marketplace where they could chose a plan the same way members of Congress do.</p></blockquote><p>Every time the Republicans tell horror stories or make fun of the ACA’s exchange, they’re telling people that their own plan for Medicare is going to turn the most popular, cost-effective and successful health plan in the country into a tragedy—or a joke.</p><p>They’re also sabotaging their own arguments for privatizing Social Security. The plan that George W. Bush proposed in 2005 called upon the government to administer a portfolio of private investment plans on behalf of retirees. There’s still talk of reviving this GOP proposal. Rep. Paul Ryan, leading House Republican and 2012 vice-presidential candidate, continues to push a privatization scheme that even the Bush administration described as “<a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/inside-paul-ryan-s-plan-to-privatize-social-security">irresponsible</a>.”</p><p>As Obamacare goes, so goes the Social Security privatization plan.</p><p>There’s a reason why their negative characterizations of Obamacare match their own proposals so closely. As many people know, the Affordable Care Act began its life as a right-wing proposal meant to blunt the drive toward healthcare reform during the Clinton administration. Republicans loved the idea back then. They loved it when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed something similar in California. And they loved it when future presidential candidate Mitt Romney implemented it in Massachusetts.</p><p>That’s why they’re in such a trap now. Their attacks have already trashed the credibility of the Heritage Foundation, which was a principal architect of the plan back in the Clinton years. The Heritage Foundation’s <a href="http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/01/obamacare-and-the-individual-mandate-violating-personal-liberty-and-federalism">Robert Moffit</a> brought ridicule on himself and his organization when he wrote that the ACA’s individual mandate was “an Unconstitutional Violation of Personal Liberty” that “Strikes at the Heart of American Federalism,” adding that “It is an assertion of federal power that is inherently at odds with the original vision of the Framers.”</p><p>In fact, most experts agree that the idea of the individual mandate originated with the Heritage Foundation itself in a 1989 paper that proposed that the government “mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance.” The paper by Stuart M. Butler argues that:</p><blockquote><p>Many states now require passengers to wear seatbelts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious injury or illness.</p></blockquote><p>The paper continues, “Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement.” And in case there is still any doubt about whose plan contains this individual mandate proposal, the section of the document containing these words is titled “The Heritage Plan.”</p><p>Then there’s the issue on which Republicans have scored most heavily against President Obama, the matter of that infamous promise: “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” The president probably should have phrased that sentence like this: “If you like your plan you can keep it, unless it’s really terrible and affords you very little protection from the cost of serious illness or injury.”</p><p>But he didn’t say that. He said what he said, and what he said wasn’t true. Republicans have been having a field day, but even here they need to be careful. People don’t “like” the plans that were initially canceled under the ACA. Those plans are lousy. What they “like” are the low premiums. Insurance plans are complicated and difficult to understand, but premium payments are in-your-face simple. Either you can afford them or you can’t.</p><p>So the Republicans have scored on this one. People were upset that plans they felt they could afford were being replaced with costlier ones. That was and is a legitimate issue. Some of us believe that the ACA expects people to pay too much for dubious private-sector health insurance. As a result of the controversy, people with these substandard plans can keep them, thanks to the Republicans (and to quite a few Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with them).</p><p>But when some of the people with these plans find themselves going bankrupt—something that can happen even with “good” coverage—they may start looking for someone to blame. People like the “free market” in theory, but they’re much less fond of it when they find they’ve been ripped off.</p><p>Unfortunately for the Democrats, this is a knife that cuts both ways. Their defenses of the ACA hold political peril for them, too. If they defend the exchanges too strenuously, they run the risk of making an argument for Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan. If they agree that the overall implementation plan was a good idea, they are implicitly endorsing the privatization of government services.</p><p>The president walked into that trap in his now-famous apology, when he said, “I know that the federal government has not been good at this stuff in the past.”</p><p>Actually, the federal government has accomplished impressive things with a whole array of technology projects, from the atomic energy breakthroughs of the 1940s to the space program of the 1960s—and beyond. The effectiveness of government has also been demonstrated time and time again in programs like Medicare and Social Security—programs that are far more popular than private health insurance companies can ever hope to become.</p><p>The success of government is the Democratic Party’s calling card. The president and other Democrats tarnish it at their own peril, especially at a time when the Republicans are proving so effective at undercutting their own ideas and arguments.</p></div><p> </p> Tue, 03 Dec 2013 12:41:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Salon 931890 at http://farfallino.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing republicans aca healthcare exchange obamacare social security healthcare health insurance 6 Signs Our Culture Is Sick With Greed http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/6-signs-our-culture-sick-greed <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">More than ever, we seem infatuated with the fruits of unproductive greed. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1367949583378-2-0_2.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The love of money for money’s sake is the social disease of our time. We see it all around us: in the celebration of ill-gotten stock gains, public admiration for the heads of criminal banks, the words of Kanye West, in the commercialization of charity and even spirituality.</p><p>This adoration of wealth isn’t a new thing, of course. When I was in elementary school I was sent to a school counselor for being moody, introspective – in other words, for being either a proto-goth or a writer in the making. I was asked to draw a picture of myself as a happy adult, and the resulting portrait showed a rich man standing beside a Rolls-Royce with an ascot around his neck.</p><p>In defense of my childhood self, the Beatles were famous for their Rolls-Royces at the time and the Beatles seemed happy. The ascot was borrowed from my TV hero, a millionaire playboy turned a police detective, on a show called Burke’s Law. Like any good consumer in the making, I had internalized these images of wealth and had come to equate them with happiness. And what did we know about the angst of the rich in Utica, NY, in a family of five living on a community college professor’s income?</p><p>The United States of the 1960s was a nation filled with optimism. For many (though definitely not all) Americans it was a time of opportunity. Education was affordable, families could live comfortably on a single adult income, and the country seem to be on an endless upward trajectory of prosperity. We were expanding in every way, so rapidly that only the depths of space seemed able to contain the people we were about to become.</p><p>The fantasy of wealth seemed somehow different in that context. Today we’re a nation being preached to by “bipartisan” corporate politicians who lecture us on the impossibility of even the selfishness of expecting a livable Social Security income in our old age. Or a living wage in our working years. Or an affordable education, so our children can live a better life economically than we did.</p><p>Yet we're more infatuated with the fruits of unproductive greed today, it seems, then we were back then. Here are six signs that our culture is sick with greed.</p><p><strong>1. There’s still no public shame in profiting off Wall Street fraud.</strong></p><p>This week a self-styled financial advisor on the investment website Seeking Alpha celebrated the investment opportunities created by the wave of criminality and fraud which has overtaken JP Morgan Chase. The bank’s epidemic of internal fraud has led to tens of billions in fines during the tenure of CEO Jamie Dimon.</p><p>“More investigations, please.” That’s how the short report begins, before going on to describe how the stock has risen despite the record fraud settlements against the bank and multiple ongoing civil and criminal investigations. An investment analyst is quoted as follows:  "If you were a high-tech stock ... being called a utility would kill the stock price ... but being a financial (entity) called a utility is very positive."</p><p>What he’s saying is that banks are essential to the functioning of society, like a public utility. But unlike traditional public utilities, they’re entrusted to profit-driven executives with a long history of documented criminality. But to date there have been no indictments of senior Wall Street executives, because senior government officials have made it clear they don’t want to endanger the banks by enforcing the law. That’s why “being a financial entity called a utility is very positive.”</p><p>Legal and political implications aside, what’s astonishing is the lack of shame associated with being a bank executive whose organization has committed so many crimes—or an investment analyst to openly celebrate those crimes as an opportunity to make money at society’s expense.</p><p>Even as the world was still learning of Wall Street’s extensive criminality, Dimon was the subject of a fawning profile in the New York Times Sunday magazine, which detailed at length Dimon’s hurt feelings and irritation toward those audacious enough to criticize him.</p><p>Dimon, who at the time was being lionized by presidents and politicians alike, complained that he felt “bullied”  because President Obama—whose administration had studiously avoided any criminal investigation of Dimon’s bank–had described bankers as “fat cats.”</p><p>Andrew Ross Sorkin did the same thing for the same newspaper three years later, dismissing as “bloodlust” calls for Dimon’s resignation in the wake of yet more billion-dollar fraud revelations about his bank. Even now, after all the revelations of crimes which include investor fraud, shareholder fraud, perjury, forgery, violation of international sanctions laws and laws designed to protect members of the US Armed Forces—even now it’s possible to treat bank CEOs as victims in the pages of our country’s newspaper of record.</p><p>Condemning that record isn’t bloodlust. It’s morality.</p><p><strong>2. Greedy CEOs still have credibility in the media.</strong></p><p>It’s not just Dimon, of course. Having shattered the middle class through their accumulation of wealth, the devastation they inflicted on the global economy, and their mistreatment of employee pension funds, Wall Street CEOs apparently still have enough credibility in some quarters to be treated as experts in fiscal responsibility.</p><p>They’re using that credibility to suggest that the American middle-class accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare, two of the few programs left to protect them from the effects of runaway corporate greed.</p><p>A lobbying organization called Fix the Debt is trading on what remains of Wall Street’s credibility, and that of other greed-driven corporate leaders, in its campaign to cut badly needed social programs like these. Astonishingly—or not, especially if you look at their ownership structures—American news outlets accord these CEOs an extraordinary and unearned measure of respectability and authority. Very few articles about Fix the Debt mention the massive fraud settlements and fines levied against these CEOs’ institutions.</p><p>CEOs aren’t “greedy” by definition. But most of the ones on Fix the Debt’s<a href="http://www.fixthedebt.org/uploads/files/CEO%20Fiscal%20Leadership%20Council%20Membership%209-23-13.pdf">list fit that description</a>. Most of the ones who aren’t running Wall Street banks lead defense contracting firms that earn excessive profits from the US taxpayer, while lecturing those same taxpayers on the need for the middle class to cut back on its expectations of financial security when it reaches retirement age.</p><p>Fix the Debt is one of a number of interlocking organizations which are largely financed by right-wing billionaire Pete Peterson, who made his money in the hedge fund business and yet is treated by many journalists as if he were Mother Teresa.</p><p><strong>3. Executives are now trained to rip people off.</strong></p><p>This writer spent a number of years in the business world during the 1980s and 1990s, as corporate America was transforming itself from a customer-driven set of industries to a greed-driven and conscienceless wealth extraction machine for the investor class.</p><p>In the early 1990s a group of us were attending a corporate training session run by ex-hippies who now did in-house “teambuilding” exercises for large corporations. As they set us up for our various role-playing games they told us anecdotes about business “innovations,” anecdotes that were meant to inspire “out-of-the-box thinking” among the middle-management executives in attendance.</p><p>The first story they told was about the Gillette Company. As most non-bearded men know, the Gillette business model is a sneaky one. The company ropes customers in with low-cost razors and then charges an outrageous amount for replacement blades.</p><p>Out of roughly 60 people in attendance, only one other person and I objected that this was a deceptive model.</p><p>The next example was that of a pay phone company which wanted to increase turnover in the use of its phones. With barely restrained glee, the instructor described the “brilliant” thinking of a junior executive who proposed that bricks be put in the handsets of all their phones. In the same “brainstorming” session, another executive suggested making the surfaces underneath the phones slanted, so that people couldn’t leave their things there while they spoke on the phone.</p><p>The net result was that people paid a quarter to use a pay phone, but then grew uncomfortable and were unable to complete their calls. The beauty of it (from the instructor’s point of view) was that they didn’t even know why they were hanging up. They merely had an unsatisfying customer experience, while the phone company got to turn over customers more quickly and collect more quarters. Again, only two or three people objected that this was poor customer service, and an underhanded way to deal with customers.</p><p>If you multiply our experience ten thousandfold, you have an idea of the enculturation which is taking place every day in companies all across the country. That’s not to say there aren’t companies that still believe in customer service; there are, and I’m grateful every time I encounter one. But the corporate culture of America has become a culture of cheating, manipulation and greed.</p><p>(The pay phone industry in this country is dead. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.)</p><p><strong>4. And then there’s Kanye.</strong></p><p>Our idealization of greed isn’t confined to the business section of our newspapers. While white liberals decry the idealization of wealth and hip-hop music, that’s not a new phenomenon either. In fact, it can be found in both lifestyles and the recordings of their own childhood musical heroes.</p><p>“Money can’t buy everything it’s true, but what it can’t buy I can’t use ….”</p><p>There has always been a tension in popular music between the comfortable idealism of those who come from wealthy backgrounds and the aspirational materialism of pop musicians who were raised in poverty and/or financial insecurity. That latter list includes Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, and many of today’s hip-hop artists.</p><p>As the seminal R&amp;B producer/songwriter/performer Swamp Dogg put it in the 1970s: “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.”</p><p>The best of those artists—the Beatles, Brown, and now Kanye West—have struggled to reconcile the drive which help them escape poverty with the idealism that made them gifted artists.</p><p>Kanye ran into some controversy with his track “New Slaves.” Many people were offended that he equated his own wealth with slavery and Jim Crow laws. It’s Kanye’s charm, as well as his curse, to speak everything that comes into his mind. But we think he was onto something with his line about “throwing back the Maybach keys” and his lyrics about the expectation that African-American celebrities will be excessive spenders.</p><p>Self-made celebrities often act as ritualized consumers on behalf of the general public. Their job is to swallow up the most excessive luxuries the wealthy lifestyle has to offer. They inadvertently use their power and influence to reinforce the corporate-driven, consumerist tropes that keep us enslaved to our own material desires.</p><p>By naming the phenomenon and ritually “throwing the keys,” Kanye West is trying to break a pattern that has stretched from Tupelo in Mississippi to Compton in California, from Liverpool in England to Bed-Sty and Brownsville in New York.</p><p><strong>5. Insight and spirituality are being commercialized ….</strong></p><p>As I wrote in “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/buying-wisdom" target="_blank">Buying Wisdom</a>” for Tricycle magazine, even ancient spiritual traditions like Buddhism are being co-mingled with idealized visions of what it means to be a billionaire. From TED talks to mindfulness conferences like the Wisdom 2.0 conference, the search for individual and collective insight is becoming increasingly identified with the desire to accumulate wealth.</p><p>“You can have it all,” these events seem to say. “You can gain peace of mind, unlock the mysteries of human existence, and become a billionaire at the same time.” Some of these events even seem to argue that they are one and the same journey. It’s Nirvana—with corporate sponsorship.</p><p><strong>6. … and so is kindness to our fellow human beings.</strong></p><p>Sometimes these events sell charity as spiritual amnesty for corporate executives. As I sat through the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, it occurred to me that I had just seen several different photographs of happy African children dancing in the water from wells they might not have needed if not for the economic predation of corporations like the ones that had dug the wells.</p><p>The Clinton Initiative has promoted misleading deficit-reduction materials (in partnership with the hedge fund billionaire Peterson and his associates). It featured a leader from Morgan Stanley —one of the institutions which was instrumental in causing the 2008 financial crisis—talking about how to recover from the financial crisis, alongside a celebrity appearance by Eva Longoria.</p><p>It’s not just the Clintons. In the midst of negotiating yet another multibillion-dollar fraud settlement, JPMorgan Chase was given the honor (and the public relations coup) of sponsoring the fundraising concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy headlined by the Rolling Stones.</p><p>But then, the Stones have a relationship with big banks that goes back to their sponsorship deal with AmeriQuest, the mortgage company which was slammed for deceitful practices and discriminatory lending toward minorities.</p><p>That’s not to say corporate charity, or for that matter the charity of billionaires, is a bad thing. Everyone should incorporate charity into their way of life, and those who are most fortunate should give the most in return. Nobody argues with that. The sickness comes when we allow certain types of charity to glorify the giver, or when it’s considered impolite to mention any relationship between, say, the excessive wealth accumulation of the givers and the need for charity in the first place.</p><p><strong>Soul Sickness</strong></p><p>Today there are countless signs that our culture is sick with greed. You don’t need to be told that. Just look around.</p><p>I never was able to afford the Rolls-Royce of my childhood fantasy, and ascots have gone out of style. But then, those things were only an expression of pain. They reflected a deep yearning to be somewhere else, to be someone else, to escape the daily trials of my everyday existence and replace them with a fantasy bubble that kept me at a glittering distance from the sufferings of the real world.</p><p>Today’s national culture of greed is also an expression of pain and fear. It’s more terrifying than ever to try to survive on a middle-class income. Most people live one or two paychecks away from disaster. Very few of us feel that we have any real control over our own fate. The lives of reality show stars and rappers are merely the most obvious of our escapist fantasies.</p><p>But as long as we live in a fantasy world, we won’t be working to change the real one. True happiness is found in a life lived with meaning. It’s not just that I can’t afford that car. We can’t afford it. We can’t afford to live in a world where our only aspiration is to accumulate wealth, irrespective of how it’s accumulated, while ignoring the flourishing of the human spirit in its artistic, idealistic and intellectual aspects.</p><p>“The love of possessions is a sickness with them,” said Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe. People are losing their lives in the pursuit of wealth and possessions. They’re dying from gunshot wounds and heart attacks, in gang battles and in solitary hospital beds. And it’s getting worse. The symptoms are appearing, not just in ourselves, but in the planet we call home. If we don’t cure it soon, it could prove fatal for all of us.</p> Thu, 28 Nov 2013 07:22:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 930264 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy greed The Shamelessness of Bankers http://farfallino.alternet.org/shamelessness-bankers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Bank executives have displayed disrespect for both law and regulation, that they are not worthy of the public’s trust, and that they are culturally impaired at a profound level. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-11-12_at_2.49.02_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><p>It’s not easy to maintain a civil tone while describing the magnitude of the misbehavior among executives at Wall Street’s largest institutions. To criticize bankers is to describe large-scale wrongdoing, mass-produced outrages that lead to widespread misery. It can’t be done without routinely deploying words like “perjury,” “forgery,” “fraud,” “deceit,” “corruption” and “rapaciousness.”</p><p>Unfortunately, the forms of speech that adequately convey big-banker behavior also make it easy for insiders in politics, government and the media to dismiss that same speech as excessive.</p><div id="attachment_117141"><p>William Dudley , chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.</p></div><p>That’s one reason why some <a href="http://www.newyorkfed.org/newsevents/speeches/2013/dud131107.html">recent remarks</a> by William Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, are so important. He’s no outsider and he’s no extremist. And yet, after exploring potential solutions to the “too big to fail” problem in a speech to Global Economic Policy Forum last week, Dudley went on to discuss what he called “the apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust.”</p><p>Added Dudley: “There is evidence of deep-seated cultural and ethical failures at many large financial institutions.”</p><p>Two phrases in particular bear repeating: “the apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust,” and “deep-seated cultural and ethical failures.”</p><p>Mr. Dudley is using the language of courtesy and civility, but his language is blunt and even cutting. He’s speaking of individuals he knows well and with whom he interacts daily. That doesn’t prevent him from saying that bank executives have displayed disrespect for both law and regulation, that they are not worthy of the public’s trust, and that they are culturally and ethnically impaired at a profound level.</p><p>And yet, remarkably enough, House members from both parties are nevertheless <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/30/wall-street-deregulation_n_4018363.html">supporting a Republican-backed initiative</a> which would unwind some of the already-inadequate provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. There’s very little chance that President Obama will sign their bills, since he considers Dodd-Frank a signature achievement. But his administration retains its cozy relationship with major banks – a relationship that includes revolving-door appointees and a reluctant attitude toward the criminal prosecution of bankers.</p><p>That’s no surprise. How can legal safeguards be maintained when the money these institutions spend taints the political process from beginning to end? How can bank executives learn “respect for law, regulation and the public trust” when they are subject to the flattery of journalists, rather than the scrutiny of journalists? (See Roger Lowenstein’s <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/magazine/05Dimon-t.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0">puff piece</a> about bank CEO Jamie Dimon in the New York Times Magazine for a classic example of that genre.)</p><p>And how can the society of big bank executives heal from its “deep-seated cultural and ethical failures” when those executives are treated as founts of economic wisdom, worthy of demanding sacrifices from others through political lobbying groups like Fix the Debt, and still believe that their names lend credibility to their efforts rather than casting shame on all of them.</p><p>“When pride cometh,” says the Bible in Proverbs, “then cometh shame.” Maybe that word should form the collective noun for members of that profession. Like “a pride of lions”: a “shame of bankers.”</p><p>But where is that shame, already? Big-bank executives have been insulated from it by sycophants in the media and politics.</p><p>In quoting Proverbs, I’m not suggesting that a religious renewal could clean up Wall Street. Too many crooks have done their stealing in the name of God. But something has to restrain these runaway bankers. Social “shaming” might help. But instead of ostracizing them for their contemptuous attitude toward legality and fair play, too much of society lionizes them instead.</p><p>Our society worships wealth and consumption, and that slavish devotion has reached massive proportions. Along with that worship, our society seems to have rejected the idea that there is any dignity in the life of ordinary, law-abiding working people. In<a href="http://labaton.com/en/about/press/upload/US-UK-Financial-Services-Industry-Survey.pdf"> a survey conducted last year</a> by a whistleblowers’ defense law firm, nearly half of the senior bankers polled acknowledged a willingness to break the law to make money. (Presumably there were a number of others who also would, but weren’t willing to admit it to a stranger.)</p><p>Proverbs goes on to say that “riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.” But who believes that anymore? Absent some resurgence of prophetic outrage, our banker problem will continue.</p><p>However tragic the consequences, it’s easy to understand the subservient behavior that politicians and senior government officials display toward big-bank executives. The politicians want campaign contributions. The senior government officials want to follow the revolving-door route followed by the likes of Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Peter Orszag, also have become wealthy as employees, consultants or speech-givers to the largest Wall Street institutions.</p><p>Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, seemed incapable of shame even after the London Whale fiasco provided evidence that he was incapable of curbing criminality in his chronically lawbreaking organization. (See “<a href="http://ourfuture.org/20130920/jpmorgan-chase-incredibly-guilty">JPMorgan Chase: Incredibly Guilty</a>.”) It was not until multiple government investigations focused on his institution that Dimon stopped trying to block government regulation of his industry.</p><p>Nam ego illum periisse duco, cui quidem periit pudor, wrote the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. It means, “I count him lost who is lost to shame.” By that standard, Jamie Dimon and his ilk may sadly be counted as lost among civilized human beings.</p><p>But the rest of us still need to be protected from them. Some of that protection will come with better law enforcement, so that they are discouraged from acting out their worst impulses. And part of it will come through shaming them publicly, since most of them are human beings with enormous egos.</p><p>“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind,” said the same passage in Proverbs. We can’t depend on a higher power to make those words reality. We need to use the tools we have been given – tools that include the law, our social norms, and moral clarity – to protect ourselves from the shamelessness of bankers.</p> Tue, 12 Nov 2013 11:47:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 922914 at http://farfallino.alternet.org wall street Beware: Huge Media Companies Are Selling Corporate Ideology as the 'New American Center' http://farfallino.alternet.org/media/beware-corporate-ideology-being-sold-huge-media-companies-new-american-center <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Esquire and NBC News are pushing a new political demographic that just so happens to be in sync with the priorities of the 1 percent.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-11-04_at_2.41.54_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p dir="ltr">“IT’S OFFICIAL,” the box on my screen announced in capital letters. “YOU’RE ONE OF THE BLEEDING HEARTS.”</p><p dir="ltr">To examine the <em>Esquire</em>/NBC News “New American Center” is to enter a Beltway consultants’ dreamscape, a perceptual interspace where real Americans’ opinions dissolve and are replaced by a chimerical creature whose secret language is only understood by certain insider politicians, corporations and consultants.</p><p dir="ltr">That creature’s name is “The Center.”</p><p dir="ltr">The survey commissioned by these two news organizations tells us very little about American public opinion. But it tells us a great deal about the insular worlds in which certain journalists and consultants reside.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pop Quiz</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Although there were some interesting nuggets of data in the study, overall it was an ill-conceived venture whose main purpose seemed to be reinforcing a prevailing article of faith inside the Beltway: that there is an undiscovered “center” to American politics, and that finding it will spell success for savvy corporations, candidates and consultants.</p><p dir="ltr">I tried to review the poll’s methodology with an open mind. But we’re not told how the study identified the “American Center,” and its architects at the Benenson Strategy Group failed to respond to requests for information.</p><p dir="ltr">That organization’s founder, Joel Benenson, became something of a polling legend when he defied the hackneyed pseudo-wisdom of his former mentor Mark Penn and helped guide Barack Obama to an upset victory over Penn’s client in the 2008 primaries. It’s unfortunate, then, that this particular study is packed with the kind of zingy and vacant language for which Penn became notorious. It labels Americans on a left/right axis of Bleeding Hearts, Gospel Left, Minivan Mods, MBA Middle, Pickup Populists, #whateverman, Righteous Right, and Talk Radio Heads.  </p><p dir="ltr">By comparison, Penn’s “soccer mom” lingo seems almost profound.</p><p dir="ltr">Reviewing the raw data only added to the confusion. Why, for example, did many of the raw-data entries list the leftmost category as “Young Libs” rather than “Bleeding Hearts”? We don’t know—and they’re not saying.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The Unhidden Persuaders</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Esquire</em> and NBC News don’t report this study so much as hype it. Disturbingly, these journalists use the same marketing language employed by the consultants who wrote the report. <em>Esquire</em> <a href="http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/new-american-center-1113">tells its readers</a> that the “New American Center” is “passionate, persuadable, and very real.” <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/14/20960588-the-new-american-center-why-our-nation-isnt-as-divided-as-we-think">NBC New</a>s informs visitors to its website that “the center is real, passionate and persuadable.” (The NBC News piece carries the byline of a “senior staff writer.” The <em>Esquire</em> piece is credited to “The Editors.”)</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, over at the Benenson Strategy Group website, project leader Daniel Franklin is quoted as saying that “the Center is dynamic and persuadable”—there’s that word again—“creating an opportunity for politicians and businesses alike to reevaluate how they communicate and connect with the American public.” That sounds like a pitch for corporate clients. Benenson’s past and present clients include Toyota, major drug companies, Shell Oil, and Verizon.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Esquire</em>, in particular, crosses the line into naked huckstering for both this survey and centrist ideology. All the “centrist” buzzwords and catchphrases are there: We're told we must get past the “meaningless labels,” transcend our obsolete “culture war,” conquer the “extreme partisanship of Washington” (no particular party’s held responsible for that), and reconnect with “the actual national mood and values.”</p><p dir="ltr">The editors sneer at what they call the “hoary conventional wisdom” that “we as a people are now hopelessly polarized in our culture, our values, and our politics”—an odd stance when promoting a study which slices the public into separate (and rather clichéd) social divisions.</p><p dir="ltr">That, too, comes straight from the corporate-centrism playbook: before idealizing your mythical “center,” you must first compartmentalize and trivialize people of both the left and the right. <em>Esquire</em> even offers a “Warren/Cruz scale,” as if popular Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose opinions on banking regulation and economic justice poll well with the general public, were somehow comparable to the far-right senator from Texas whose government shutdown crusade has caused a disastrous plunge in his party’s popularity. That isn’t social science or journalism, it’s propaganda.</p><p dir="ltr">The sense of marketing hype and political spin is only heightened by the fact we’re told that the Center is allegedly “persuadable,” but is also a <em>majority</em>. That’s right: we’re told that the “New American Center” constitutes 51% of the electorate. That sounds like a corporate-funded centrist’s dream—and a consultant’s meal ticket.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Sometimes the trick is in what you <em>don’t</em> ask.</p><p dir="ltr">We’re told that “a majority of those in the center agree with a mix of Republican and Democratic ideas.” But this survey’s respondents were only asked about Republican and Democratic ideas. Pollsters excluded a number of popular, nonpartisan ideas not yet embraced by either party.</p><p dir="ltr">A case in point: a recent poll from Lake Research reaffirmed numerous previous studies which found that a vast majority of Americans oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The numbers were overwhelming: 82% of Republicans. 83% of Democrats. 78% of independents. Another survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance found that strong majorities of Americans, across the political spectrum want Social Security benefits increased, and would accept an increase in payroll taxes for themselves as well as the wealthy to pay for it.</p><p dir="ltr">But that idea isn’t supported by “centrist” leaders in either party right now, perhaps because it might require higher rates of taxation for the wealthy. Its absence from the public debate is a rebuke to our democratic process, and a sign of big-money corruption.</p><p dir="ltr">In short, there’s no basis for claiming that voters want the kind of “Republican/Democratic” hybrid the survey is pushing. The survey attempts to spin dissatisfaction with both parties into a yearning for a hybrid of both parties. Beltway insiders have made that leap of faith before, to disastrous effect. Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Democratic hedge funder Erskine Bowles were paired up to pitch budget cuts to the American people. But their proposal only won the support of a whopping 6% of the electorate when it was introduced. Other such “ecumenical” attempts met with similar failure.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Esquire’s War</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The absence of entitlement questions is especially surprising considering <em>Esquire</em>’s long record of concern-trolling on the subject. First there was its hokey “Esquire Deficit Commission,” which the magazine put together under centrist MSNBC Democrat Lawrence O’Donnell. Then there was the magazine’s widely discredited claim to have discovered “the real war on American youth.” (We reviewed both <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/the-real-war-on-youth-esq_b_1413716.html">here</a>.)</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Esquire’</em>s long-standing intergenerational hostility was evident in 2007, when consultant Heather Smith wrote <a href="http://www.esquire.com/features/best-brightest-2007/heathersmith1207">in the magazine</a> about her experience getting out the youth vote. Smith wrote that young voters “want to see campaigns and politicians or government address … jobs and the economy, health care, affording college, economic issues —things that Washington thinks of as the concerns of the middle-aged middle class.”</p><p dir="ltr">That’s a useful insight into the interests and goals which Americans share across the generations. But this was the subheading chosen by <em>Esquire</em>’s editors: “Stop pandering to the geezers and stop ignoring young voters.”</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, for all its expressed concern about rapacious geezers, <em>Esquire</em> didn’t request a single question about Social Security. Maybe that’s because <em>Esquire</em> already knows what it thinks.</p><p dir="ltr">And maybe that’s why <em>Esquire</em>, in particular, went so far over the top in pushing style “centrism”—a push which begins with the editors’ first sentence and its sneering reference to Jim Hightower as “the legendary hellion populist out of Texas,” adding, in parentheses, “yes, such a beast once roamed the earth.”</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, the economic populism represented by Hightower (who is very much alive) can be partially found in a cohort the <em>Esquire</em> study labels “Pickup Populists.” But it’s de rigueur when giving a “centrist” pitch to contemptuously dismiss all that might be considered “left.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Esquire</em>’s editors overhyped the study, too, making claims even the consultants don’t dare to assert. They even claim that studying their conception of the "Center” provide previously unseen insights about public opinion, adding that this is “precisely what we mean when we talk about the Center: what most Americans actually believe.”</p><p dir="ltr">What most Americans actually believe.</p><p dir="ltr">That’s quite a claim. And it’s presumably purely coincidental that this undiscovered majority is so sympathetic to the <em>Esquire</em>agenda.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Both Sides Now</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The false ideology of Beltway-insiderism can also be found in this <em>Esquire</em> paragraph:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">“To be sure that its findings were as far removed from the prevailing political interests as possible, the poll was designed and conducted in ecumenical fashion, by both the Benenson Strategy Group, President Obama's pollster, and Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted the polls for Governor Romney.”</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">The impartial observer might be more likely to conclude that hiring not one, but two pollsters for mainstream political candidates might be a way to <em>ensure</em> that its findings reflected “the prevailing political interests.”</p><p dir="ltr">But that’s corporate-centrist ideology in a nutshell: One politician is a partisan. Two politicians are the American people incarnate.</p><p dir="ltr">Neil Newhouse, the Romney pollster who seems to have been something of a silent partner in this enterprise, became known for two things during the 2012 election. He insisted that the Romney campaign “would not be dictated by fact-checkers” after it was criticized for deceptive advertising. He also insisted that Romney would win.</p><p dir="ltr">Newhouse is a top Republican consultant. Benenson has been described by GQ as is one of “the fifty most powerful people in DC,” a fact his company <a href="http://www.bsgco.com/main/newsID/60/do/news_detail">website</a> proudly proclaims, alongside a similar <a href="http://www.bsgco.com/main/newsID/48/do/news_detail">accolade</a>—if that’s the right word—from Newsweek. So this piece may merely reflect the biases of longtime insiders. The Benenson Group has done excellent work in the past. We certainly hope this doesn’t reflect its <a href="http://www.prweekus.com/wpps-kantar-acquires-benenson-strategy-group/article/308695/">acquisition</a>by a multinational named WPP, whose <a href="http://www.wpp.com/wpp/">website</a>says that “WPP companies exist to help their clients compete successfully: in marketing strategy, advertising, every form of marketing communication and in monitoring progress.”</p><p dir="ltr">After all, polling is not advertising or “marketing communication.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Raw</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The raw data don’t easily lend themselves to this centrist interpretation. There’s no space here to go through all the issues, so let’s take just one: government regulation. Most Americans are ambivalent about it. The conservative American Enterprise Institute think-tank captured that ambivalence effectively in its 2011 <a href="http://www.aei.org/article/society-and-culture/free-enterprise/the-public-view-of-regulation-revisited/">review</a>of public opinion on the subject.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://www.people-press.org/values-questions/q41gg/free-market-economy-needs-government-regulation-to-serve-public-interest/#total">Pew Research Center</a> found in 2012 that most Americans (63%) agree with the statement that “a free-market economy needs government regulation in order to best serve the public interest,” a figure that was essentially unchanged from its 62% level in 2009. But Pew also found that solid majorities believe that <a href="http://www.people-press.org/values-questions/q30i/government-regulation-of-business-does-more-harm-than-good/#total">government regulation of business</a>“usually does more harm than good” (a finding we would argue is the result of decades’ worth of marketing).</p><p dir="ltr">The <em>Esquire</em>/NBC News poll shows that 42% of respondents said they agreed with the statement that “financial reform should only be used to curb abuses, and shouldn’t interfere with banks’ and investors’ ability to make profits.”</p><p dir="ltr">That’s a slanted question. A “yes” does not necessarily mean Americans think the government is doing too much regulation, although there are times when Americans do think that. The operative word is still “ambivalence.” But <em>Esquire</em>’s editors nevertheless state unequivocally that the “Center wants the Federal government…to go easy on regulation.”</p><p dir="ltr">Other phraseology is equally dicey. <em>Esquire</em>tells us, for example, that “the Center believes that the government should help only those who really need help.” What does that even mean? Who supports helping people who don’t need help? It’s like the old Henny Youngman joke about the Boy Scout who helped old ladies across the street “whether they wanted to cross the street or not.”</p><p dir="ltr">Even a “bleeding heart” like me wouldn’t go for that.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The Center and I</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Which brings us back to my experience with the online test. Was I <em>really</em>on the leftmost periphery of American public opinion. And “un-persuadable” not worthy of attention? I have no problem being on the leftist vanguard, but in this case it seemed hard to believe. After all, those Lake Research findings showed that 82% of Republicans agreed with me on Social Security, just one of many policy areas in which my own economic views seem to reflect the mainstream. Others include taxing the wealthy, doing more to fight poverty, repairing our crumbling infrastructure, taxing corporations at a higher rate, and having the government do more to create jobs.</p><p dir="ltr">We don’t seem that different, the Center and I. “The Center doesn’t think of itself as the ‘center,’” we’re told. Same here.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Center doesn’t much like how things are going,” say the editors at <em>Esquire</em>. Well, I’m not too thrilled either.</p><p dir="ltr">The chimerical “Center” and I would both like to see guns brought under control, and neither of us is thrilled about the role religious institutions are playing in politics. When it comes to the right to choose, the right to choose partners, or the right to burn one down at the end of a hard work day, we pretty much feel the same way: it’s none of our business.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Off-Center</strong></p><p dir="ltr">More credible polls suggest that a new economic consensus is forming in this country, one that isn’t very accommodating toward the ideology reflected in this survey. But this new “center” has been divided by social issues. It has been excluded from political decision-making by a Beltway worldview that ignores their needs and their preferences. It’s been stymied by the kind of clichéd thinking which slices up the American people into demographic groups like “Bleeding Hearts” or “Pickup Populists.”</p><p dir="ltr">There are nuggets of good data here. It’s helpful to be reminded that Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the future, although that’s not a new finding. It was interesting to see confirmation of a growing populism in the white working-class, and to be reminded that it has stayed aloof from Democrats over social issues. That’s not new information either, but it’s useful for activists and politicians.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s time to stop searching for a nonexistent center and start reflecting the needs of a very real majority instead. That majority is inadequately represented in Washington, which is a failure of our democracy. Rather than spin or justify that failure, it’s time for even the most insider-ish analysts and journalists to report the unvarnished truth. Even their clients will eventually thank them for it.</p><p dir="ltr">In the words of <em>Esquire</em>’s editors, journalists and advisors “better be substantive” and “leave their hobbyhorses at home.” Sorry to say, this study fails on both counts.</p><p>If a “bleeding heart” won’t tell you, who will?</p> Mon, 04 Nov 2013 10:52:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 919284 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Media Economy Media new american center What Are Democrats in the Senate Smoking? Caving into Right-Wingers to Cut Medicare Would Be Political Disaster http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/dont-let-dems-cave-disaster <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In twelve weeks or so, we&#039;re going to hear more threats, more confrontations, and even more extreme rhetoric from the Govt.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1373411400917-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>As the Bob Dylan song says: "Things should start to get interesting right about now." You may think they're <em>already</em>interesting -- what with government closings, threats of a debt default, and extremist rhetoric under the Capitol Dome -- but chances are we ain't seen nothin' yet.</p><p>In twelve weeks or so our new system of government-by-crisis will resume its regularly scheduled programming: more threats, more confrontations, and even more extreme rhetoric.</p><p>There are only a few ways this could play out, and most of them involve cuts to Medicare and Social Security. The ones which don't probably involve either A) catastrophic gridlock or B) a mobilized citizenry.</p><p>Your personal level of optimism probably correlates closely to whether you think A or B is more likely.</p><p><strong>Vox populi</strong></p><p>Any scenario which leads to Social Security or Medicare cuts would be bad for seniors. It would also be bad for any politician who supported it.</p><p>A recent poll by Lake Research shows that 82 percent of all Americans oppose cuts to Social Security, including 83 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents, 82 percent of Republicans -- and, in one of the most startling findings of all, fully three-fourths of all self-described Tea Party members (74 percent). (Social Security Works has <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dYLMj9ijPs">a video</a> and a <a href="http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6405/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8723">petition</a> on this subject.)</p><p>Democrats hold the advantage on this issue right now, which means it's theirs to lose. There's a historical precedent: in 2010, after two years of presidential rhetoric about trimming entitlements, Democrats experienced a <a href="http://www.slideshare.net/ourfuture/social-security-the-future-of-the-democratic-party">20-point plunge</a> on the question "which party do you most trust to handle Social Security?" Republicans responded with a thoroughly predictable, utterly insincere -- and very effective -- "Seniors' Bill Of Rights."</p><p>2010 is the year Democrats lost control of the House.</p><p><strong>Terribly wrong</strong></p><p>This weekend we saw Sen. Dick Durbin proclaim that "entitlement cuts" were acceptable in return for tax increases. In doing so, he repeated a couple of the right-wing misconceptions that have put this fundamentally sound program in political jeopardy. "Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years," Durbin was quoted as saying. "The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don't wanna see that happen."</p><p>It's true that Social Security's massive surplus -- currently in the $2 trillion range -- will be gone by the 2030s, according to projections. But the program will still have a massive revenue stream and will be able to pay three-quarters of its scheduled benefits. And the Boomer generation's large size also means that it has made large payments into the Social Security system throughout its working life. (That's where today's enormous surplus comes from.)</p><p>Dick Durbin has been a champion for many good causes. It's sad that he's on the wrong side of this one -- sad, but not surprising. A number of prominent Democrats are there with him, although many others continue to fight the good fight. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has been on the wrong side of Social Security and Medicare for a long time. There are no good guys on that side of the fence.</p><p>But this kind of inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric is wrong. It fuels the flames of intergenerational war in a nation that has always thrived on mutual cooperation, and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of economic and actuarial reality. Statements like these aren't just false. They come dangerously close to demagoguery.</p><p><strong>What really happened</strong></p><p>This divisive anti-entitlement talk overlooks some crucial facts. Social Security was not projected to run a deficit until two things happened: First, an enormous amount of our national income moved to the top 1 percent, above the current payroll tax; and second, the Wall Street-driven financial crisis left 22 million Americans un- or under-employed, depriving the program of even more revenue.</p><p>Medicare's projected costs, which were projected to eat up the lion's share of the federal budget over the next seventy-five years, have come down or as a result of reductions in the rate of health care cost increases. Its remaining cost problems are well beyond the control of the individual seniors who belong to the program, so benefit cuts would merely victimize them by placing a much greater burden on them as individuals.</p><p>Those projected costs are, above all else, the result of runaway profit-taking in our medical economy -- a problem which Washington's insiders appear unwilling to address.</p><p><strong>The fix is ... out</strong></p><p>But, aside from the Progressive Congressional Caucus and a few courageous Senators, few people in Washington are talking about the fairest and most effective fixes for these problems. For Social Security that means raising the payroll tax, imposing a Wall Street transaction tax, and increasing payroll contributions -- which a <a href="http://www.nasi.org/press/releases/2013/01/press-release-americans-make-hard-choices-social-security">poll </a>shows most Americans would be happy to pay in return for increasing, rather than decreasing, its benefits.</p><p>For Medicare, it means reorganizing our payment system so that it more closely resembles that of the nations which refuse to tolerate excessive profit-taking in health care -- and pay far less than we do for it.</p><p>Unfortunately, most of the Senators and House members promoting these solutions are not in leadership positions. So we find ourselves in a Bizarro-World situation where too many Democrats speak like Republicans, most Republican Party leaders speak like right-wing extremists, and the Republican Party "insurgents" sound more and more like the leaders of paramilitary militias.that's not a strong foundation on which to negotiate our economic future.</p><p><strong>The posturing</strong></p><p>Now the posturing has begun. The position taken by Durbin, and apparently by the President as well, is that Republicans must agree to tax increases in return for entitlement cuts. As <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/20/democrats-social-security-cuts_n_4132087.html">Zach Carter</a> reported in the Huffington Post, Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Sen. Durbin why Republicans should have to agree to anything in order to get cuts which Democrats like Durbin and the President already support.</p><p>Unfortunately, it's a reasonable question. Not only do these Democrats apparently want to cut "entitlements" -- some such cuts are included in the president's current budget -- but they've essentially conceded as much, leaving them very little negotiating leverage.</p><p>for their part, Republicans say they're willing to give up the harmful cuts known as sequestration -- and only those cuts -- in return for Social Security and Medicare benefit reductions. Their defense-contractor patrons would be amply rewarded in return for sacrifices from America's seniors and disabled.</p><p><strong>The scenarios</strong></p><p>That's where our short list of scenarios comes in. So far, defenders of Social Security and Medicare have been saved by the extremism of the Republican Party's right. They'd be more than happy to cut Medicare and Social Security -- perhaps to eliminate them altogether -- but they don't seem inclined to accept any accommodation with the "interloper" they believe is living in the White House.</p><p>So, in one scenario, Social Security and Medicare are saved from the so-called "Grand Bargain" by Tea Party extremists who refuse any deal. That rescue would come with a very high price: ongoing economic uncertainty would continue to drain the nation of jobs and growth, while GOP extremists continued to polarize society and degrade our political rhetoric.</p><p>In a second scenario, Democrats retreat considerably from their current position and accept these entitlement cuts in return for something like a one-year cease-fire in the government shutdown and debt ceiling wars.</p><p>In another scenario, the "Grand Bargain" is negotiated by leaders from both parties, and is then celebrated as a triumph for common sense and a victory for "the adults in the room." That would lead to even greater financial hardship for tens of millions of seniors and disabled Americans, now and for many decades to come.</p><p>Another scenario has Democrats like Obama and Durbin pushing these cuts through anyway to demonstrate to the commentariat and other receptive audiences that they are, in fact, the "adults" of American politics (if "adulthood" has become synonymous with a lack of vision or courage.)</p><p>Entitlement cuts are not an "adult" position. They're a traditionally <em>conservative</em>position -- and would mean a significant retrenchment for the Democratic Party's signature achievements.</p><p><strong>None of the above</strong></p><p>There's another scenario, however, one which points toward a significantly brighter future. That's the scenario in which progressives, both officeholders and activists, lead a popular movement which reflects public opinion and defends these programs from so-called "Grand Bargain" cuts.</p><p>It won't be easy. The viewpoint of a vast majority of Americans -- including the vast majority of Republicans, and even of Tea Party members -- has been marginalized inside the Beltway as that of "the left," or even "the extreme left." Politicians who defend these programs will have to stand up to the talking heads and lobbyists who, despite all the evidence, continue to deny the truth: their anti-"entitlement" Beltway views stand well outside the mainstream of American public opinion.</p><p>That crowd, with its talk of "Baby Boomers busting the bank" and "Social Security gone bankrupt," is the real political "fringe" in this debate. Unfortunately, this "fringe" has a lot of money behind it.</p><p>It won't be an easy victory. But it's the only ending to this story in which everybody lives happily ever after: Seniors and disabled people aren't forced unnecessarily into penury or financial insecurity. Good Democrats get elected, or reelected, to office. A serious conversation is begun about how to mitigate the effects of runaway profit-seeking on American health care.</p><p>That scenario won't come by itself. People will have to work for it. But it would be more than worth the effort.</p> Mon, 21 Oct 2013 14:31:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Curbing Wall St. Project 913087 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy The Right Wing senate Letter to an Angry Libertarian http://farfallino.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/letter-angry-libertarian <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Libertarians want to return to the good old days of 19th-century America: a time of robber barons, poverty wages and unsafe working conditions. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/2c4faba0c2275bd1b94c1d05817744401f0899a9.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Dear Libertarian:</p><p>We don’t know each other, but I’m writing because you’re one of the many people who wrote to me in responce to <a href="http://www.alternet.org/economy/11-questions-you-should-ask-libertarians-see-if-theyre-hypocrites">a piece I wrote recently</a> ("11 Questions You Should Ask Libertarians to See If They're Hypocrites").</p><p>A lot of people responded. Some of you made reasonable points, while some of you simply ranted. A frightening number of you expressed hostility to democracy itself.</p><p>I don’t know your name, your age or your life story. But I’m addressing this to you in the hopes that we can get to know one another a little better.</p><p><strong>Who are you?</strong></p><p>I’m writing because you wrote a blog post, or addressed me on Twitter, or made a YouTube video about what I’d written. Or maybe you sent me an email. I’ve learned that you guys use Internet technology quite a bit. That’s no surprise, since the Silicon Valley is swarming with libertarians. But it is somewhat ironic, don’t you think, that so many of you disseminate your opinions on government-created technology? (Defense Department research created the Internet.)</p><p>What’s even more ironic is that so many Internet billionaires (I’m looking at you, <a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/09/01/do-libertarians-like-peter-thiel-really-want-to-live-in-america/">Peter Thiel</a>) are extremist libertarians in their views. They support their views with wealth they’ve accumulated using government-created technology, government-protected patents, a government-educated workforce, and consumers who are protected and educated at government expense.</p><p>I called that hypocritical in my last piece, which made some of you angry. Hey, it’s my opinion! Sue me, as the expression goes. (Wait: as libertarians, I suppose you can’t literally sue me. Courts are a government entity.) But I’m not writing this letter to pick a fight. I want to address those libertarians who were essentially courteous and respectful. You wrote thoughtful responses to my piece, and I’ll respond to some of your specific points shortly.</p><p>But first, let me say that I appreciate the dedication so many libertarians have shown in defending civil liberties and opposing the militarized state. I wish that liberals had been more steadfast on these principles since Obama took office. Ron Paul was the only 2012 presidential candidate to speak the truth about US military intervention, and Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster was admirable.</p><p>I also appreciate and admire your willingness to reject conventional thinking. We should never stop discussing new concepts, however radical. Ideas are beautiful things when they’re well constructed, and some libertarian ideas are admirable in their construction—even if I find them sorely lacking in real-world situations.</p><p>Finally, libertarians have also been great allies on the subject of Wall Street and large corporations, especially when it comes to ending their government funding, their implicit subsidies and exemptions from prosecution.</p><p><strong>Anecdote Break</strong></p><p>Before we continue, an anecdote: I went on a talk show to discuss banking reform with one of the guys from <em>Reason</em> magazine, and in the kitchen afterward we were both surprised at how much we agreed. He was funny and imperturbable. We decided to air our differences over coffee.</p><p>I said “You people are 60 percent great, and 40 percent irrational.”</p><p>“I’ll take 60 percent,” he cheerfully. “What else?”</p><p>“Talking with you guys is like being on a first date that’s going really well, until all of a sudden she starts talking about her alien abduction and how space people are speaking to her through her fillings.”</p><p>He said, "The existence of alien life is a very real possibility."</p><p>Like I said: Very funny.</p><p>Finally I said “Okay, I’ve told you what I think. What do you think about people like me?”</p><p>His answer: “Nice, but way too serious.” </p><p><strong>The Libertarian Experiment, 1776-1929</strong></p><p>On the other hand, there’s a lot to be serious about. It’s true that libertarian ideas can be intriguing. But political debates have real-world, human consequences. If an exciting idea doesn’t work in practice, we have a moral obligation to change our thinking.</p><p>My deepest criticism of libertarians is that they aren’t willing to change in the face of experience. This nation conducted a long experiment in libertarian economics, after all, from its inception until the mid-19th-century or thereabouts. Our economy retained many libertarian features—minimal regulations and labor laws, for example—until the early 20th century.</p><p>They weren’t the “good old days,” at least not for most Americans. It was a time of robber barons, poverty wages, unsafe working conditions, and financial instability. To return to that level of deregulation in today’s advanced industrial economy would be even worse. We’d see frequent BP-type environmental disasters, accelerated climate change, and financial crises that span the entire globe.</p><p><strong>Triumph of the Will?</strong></p><p>Several of you told me that economic transactions, including the employer/employee relationship, should be based on “free will.” But garment workers in early-20th-century New York or 21st-century Bangladesh aren’t allowed to exercise their free will. They either accept poverty wages and lethal working conditions or they starve. Why does an employer’s freedom to negotiate trump the employees’ right to organize collectively? “Free will” is pretty narrowly defined.</p><p>One of you wrote that, “You have a right to the product of your labors, but you can’t force someone to pay you more than what you are due.” But you can force someone to accept <em>less</em> than what they’re due, if the alternative is starvation. That’s not a free and fair transaction.</p><p>You wrote that no transaction is immoral “as long as force is not involved.” But what human forces are more brutal than hunger, privation and death?</p><p><strong>Market Wisdom</strong></p><p>Several of you said that, in the words of one email, “The only reason big corporations are bad right now is because of big government.” That’s simply not true. Big corporations were big and bad in the 1900s, too, when the federal government was much smaller than it is today.</p><p>A lot of you took umbrage at my observation that the public lost interest in libertarianism until it received artificial subsidies from corporations and wealthy individuals. I asked, shouldn’t the “market” in ideas decide? Many of you reacted by implying that I think unpopular ideas should be suppressed. That’s not what I said. I was observing some hypocrisy in your position, not stating my own.</p><p>Remember: I’m not the one who believes in the all-knowing “wisdom of markets.” I support public education and nonprofit journalism, so that unpopular ideas can flourish without being manipulated or suppressed by big-money interests.</p><p><strong>Democracy, No!</strong></p><p>My question about democracy was, “Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?” This is where it was disturbing to hear some of your opinions—especially knowing they’re shared by many wealthy and powerful people.</p><p>One of you wrote that, “Democracy is no more of a form of marketplace than a rampaging mob is a form of marketplace.” You added: “Democracy is no more than theft by popular vote.”</p><p>This is a very Randian—and very wrong-headed—view of democracy. It’s absurd to suggest that a line of people waiting to vote is “rampaging,” while a line of people at the Walmart checkout counter is “preparing to make a rational market decision.”</p><p>What you call a “mob,” we call “the majority.” Your choice of language betrays a fierce contempt for “ordinary" people—that is, the non-wealthy—which is deeply disturbing. This elitism is libertarianism’s dark heart, and I ask you to reexamine your assumptions about it.</p><p>The “theft” in question is, at least for most of you, taxation. But taxes are collected in return for services provided, often more effectively and at lower cost than the “privatized” alternative.</p><p>One of you quoted Ambrose Bierce as saying, “Democracy is four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” Unfortunately, that useful government-sponsored resource called the Internet offers no proof (other than user-written websites) that Bierce ever said that. Whoever said it was wrong, especially in Bierce’s time. (Or Ben Franklin’s. The saying is misattributed to him, too.)</p><p>Our democratic processes have been subverted by big money and big media, two forces whose corrupting influence is often defended by libertarians. Our system is run by a few lambs. First those lambs enriched themselves, often by cheating and manipulating the flock. Then they gave the throng a choice of pro-lamb candidates and called it democracy.</p><p><strong>Goodbye For Now</strong></p><p>Well, my libertarian friend, there you have it. You’re engaged with the world of ideas, and that’s good. I hope you stay open-minded, as I try to do, and let experience—including the BP oil spill and the financial crisis of 2008—influence your thinking. I hope we can continue to work together to resist militarism and defend our individual liberties.</p><p>I’m sorry if my last piece was too brusque or sarcastic. I’ll work on my tone. But if you think my ideas are no good, I hope you’ll take comfort in the thought that market forces should therefore crush them and replace them with better ones—maybe even yours!</p><p>Your democracy-loving friend,</p><p>Richard</p><p>PS: How about that whole Bitcoin thing, huh? Looks <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/10/02/a_bitcoin_libertarian_disaster_the_silk_road_gets_busted/">kinda bad</a> for your side right now, don’t you think? Talk to you soon.</p> Fri, 11 Oct 2013 10:27:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 908963 at http://farfallino.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing libertarian 7 Signs America Has Regressed Back To the Harsh, Cruel 19th Century http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/7-signs-america-has-regressed-back-harsh-cruel-19th-century <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We think we’re in the 21st century, but all the signs suggest we’re living in an earlier and harsher era.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-10-02_at_11.12.55_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Tea Party Republicans long for the days when there were no government authorities to enforce laws and restrain the power of unchecked wealth, the days when there was no Justice Department, no SEC, no other agencies protecting Americans from the misdeeds of bankers and corporate titans. But it already seems as if our entire country has secretly been transported back in time. We may think we’re living in the 21st century, but all the signs suggest we’re living in an earlier and harsher era.</p><p>Here are seven signs the United States of America has returned to the 19th century.</p><p><strong>1. Wall Street can “send your man around to see my man” again.</strong></p><p>Shocked by newly elected President Teddy Roosevelt’s moves against Wall Street, J. P. Morgan went to the White House. "If we have done anything wrong,” said Morgan, “send your man to my man and they can fix it up."</p><p>"That can't be done," said Roosevelt. "We don't want to fix it up," his Attorney General added, "we want to stop it." The year was 1902, and 19th-century privilege was over for Wall Street. Now it’s back, and so are the “men”—and as the recent foot-dragging over female Fed chair candidate Janet Yellen highlights, they almost always are men.</p><p>The chief architects of deregulation in the 1990s included Sen. Phil Gramm, President Bill Clinton and Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. That deregulation cost millions of Americans their jobs and millions more their life savings. But the parties behind it did just fine.</p><p>Gramm went to work for UBS bank immediately upon leaving the Senate in 2002, and is now vice-chairman of its investment banking division. Robert Rubin eventually headed up Citigroup, the megabank whose creation was made possible when his Treasury Department pushed for a then-illegal merger between Travelers and Citibank. Rubin was to become deeply implicated in the fraud and scandal which led to the 2008 crisis, although he claimed ignorance of his own bank’s doings and never faced prosecution.</p><p>Larry Summers has made millions from Wall Street banks. Bill Clinton made tens of millions “advising” two investment funds belonging to billionaire Ron Burkle. Exactly how much isn’t known, but a very public <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/03/29/bill-clintons-20-million-breakup.html" target="_blank">falling out</a> involved Burkle’s alleged “stiffing” of Clinton on a final $20-$25 million payment. Clinton went on to serve as an advisor of Teneo Capital until February 2012.</p><p>Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs was George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary. Barack Obama’s first Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, is now collecting <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/08/02/the-wall-street-ties-of-larry-summers-and-timothy-geithner/" target="_blank">huge fees</a> on Wall Street. Obama’s second Secretary, Jack Lew, was an executive at Citigroup. His former economic advisor, Peter Orszag, has traded places with Lew and is now at Citigroup. Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, broke the Democratic mold by working at JPMorgan Chase.</p><p>White House visitor logs, which are <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/04/13/4115/white-house-visitor-logs-riddled-holes" target="_blank">woefully incomplete</a>, show that <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/jamie-dimon-has-visited-the-white-house-6-times-under-obama-blankfein-3-ken-lewis-just-once-2009-10" target="_blank">Wall Street’s top dogs</a> were frequent guests, especially at the height of the bank bailout. Despite massive fraud and tens of billions in fines and settlements, not one senior banker has been indicted for the crimes which brought down the economy.</p><p>Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy has been undone. Bankers can “send their man" to see the president’s man—and he's frequently the same man.</p><p><strong>2. Workers aren’t unionized.</strong></p><p>The horrors of working life during the Industrial Revolution led to the rise of the American union, beginning in the year 1860. The US State Department estimates that 3 percent of the workforce belonged to a union by the close of the 19th century. That number rose to roughly 7 percent by 1930, and to more than one worker in four by 1954.</p><p>The percentage of working people in unions has now dropped to roughly 7 percent again for private-sector workers. That’s roughly the early-20th-century level. When you add in government employees, who are more heavily unionized, the number rises slightly, to 11.5 percent. Our national and state capitals remain in the grip of an ill-advised round of cost-cutting that’s bringing the total number of government employees down quickly, which adds to the decline of these numbers.</p><p>Thanks to a four-decade-long campaign against them, unions—and workers—are more likely to be vilified than praised. It’s almost impossible to imagine today’s United States Congress passing the 1895 law that created Labor Day.</p><p><strong>3. Our rights end at the workplace door.</strong></p><p>Our individual rights are being steadily eroded in the workplace. As employment lawyer Mark Trapp told Business Week, “the freedom to speak your mind doesn’t really exist in the workplace.” A series of court cases has shown that Americans can be fired for expressing political opinions outside their place of employment, too, on social media like Twitter or Facebook.</p><p>One of the unions’ first demands was for a shorter workday, which in the 1800s meant a 10-hour maximum. Now we’re moving back toward 19th-century standards. As the Washington Times reports, “Americans are working approximately 11 more hours per week now than they did in the 1970s, yet the average income for middle-income families has declined by 13% (when adjusting for inflation).” </p><p>Here’s a 19th-century image, from <em>the New York Times:</em> “ …employees at lower rungs of the economic ladder can be timed with stopwatches in the bathroom; stonewalled when they ask to go; given disciplinary points for frequent urination; even hunted down by supervisors with walkie-talkies if they tarry in the stalls.”</p><p><strong>4. They’re advocating child labor again.</strong></p><p>What’s the matter with kids today? According to a number of conservatives, they’re not being put to work in factories and farms. Child labor, one of the moral blights of 19th-century America, is increasingly popular on the right again.</p><p>Child labor laws do not permit children under the age of 14 to work in non-agricultural settings. That is “truly stupid,” <a href="http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/19/gingrich-laws-preventing-child-labor-are-truly-stupid/" target="_blank">Newt Gingrich</a> said last year while running for the Republican presidential nomination. Children aren’t learning the proper “work habits,” said Gingrich, who proposed firing most school janitors and giving the jobs to underage minority children instead.</p><p>Republican Senator <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/01/17/gop-senator-calls-federal-laws-child-labor-unconstitutional/" target="_blank">Mike Lee </a>has called for abolishing federal child labor laws (although he says he isn’t opposed to state laws). Lee said that labor and manufacturing are “local activities,” not “interstate commercial transactions.”</p><p>“This may sound harsh,” said Lee, “but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh.”</p><p>Arkansas congressional candidate Tom Cotton also believes in child labor. "We need more young people who've worked all day in the fields, not less,” said Cotton during his 2012 campaign. Cotton won his race and now serves in the House of Representatives.</p><p><strong>5. It’s practically legal to shoot people down in the streets again.</strong></p><p>At least 22 states have some version of the “Stand Your Ground” law, which permits people to shoot and kill another person if they feel in danger, even when it’s possible to escape safely. </p><p>A nonpartisan political group called <a href="http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/html/home/1000mayors.html">Mayors Against Illegal Guns</a> is part of a coalition whose recent study showed that states which passed Stand Your Ground laws between 2005 and 2007 saw <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/mayors-against-illegal-guns-national-urban-league-votevets-release-report-showing-stand-your-ground-laws-have-increased-homicides-and-complicated-prosecutions-223945551.html" target="_blank">a 53 percent increase</a> in “justifiable homicides.” As the coalition notes, “this increase is not simply the result of more homicides being classified as ‘justifiable,’ but also of an overall increase in firearm-related and overall homicides in Stand Your Ground states.”</p><p>The report notes that prosecutors in these states had greater difficulty convicting violent offenders. </p><p>“The findings in this report aren't surprising, given that these laws give anyone with a gun more permissive rules of engagement in America's communities than our troops have on the battlefield," said Jon Soltz, a two-tour veteran of the Iraq war and chairman of <a href="http://www.votevets.org/">VoteVets</a>.</p><p>The laws are also more permissive than 19th-century law, despite the fact that dueling remained legal until 1859, when most states outlawed it. Unlike Stand Your Ground, both parties in a duel were armed and had an equal chance of success. Duels were also voluntary, whereas a person who is shot under Stand Your Ground has no choice in the matter.</p><p><strong>6. The rich have more of our national wealth than they did in colonial times.</strong></p><p>As <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/09/us-income-inequality-its-worse-today-than-it-was-in-1774/262537/" target="_blank">Jordan Weissman</a> demonstrated in the <em>Atlantic</em> last year, the top 1 percent and the top 10 percent capture more of our national income now than they did in the 1700s, before we won our nation’s independence. Inequality was worse by 1860, but is even worse today than in either century.</p><p>This country enacted a series of laws which enabled Americans to achieve social mobility. But in the wake of cuts to everything from education to childhood nutrition, and with the decline of the American middle-class, those opportunities are fading too.</p><p>Here’s one of the main reasons the middle-class is declining: With no strong counterforce representing employees, corporations are also amassing more wealth than ever. The charts <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/companies-need-to-share-more-profits-with-employees-2012-12" target="_blank">Henry Blodget</a> made last year remain essentially unchanged: as corporations amass more and more wealth, they’re sharing less and less of it with workers in the form of wages.</p><p>As <a href="http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html" target="_blank">G. William Domhoff</a> shows, by the end of the Reagan era the percentage of national wealth going to the top 1 percent had returned to pre-1929 levels. It has continued to climb since then. A recent review of 2012 economic data shows, among other things, that the top 1 percent saw their incomes rise by a staggering 32 percent in one year—and that the top 10 percent captured more than half of our nation’s income for the first time since they started tracking this data a century ago.</p><div><strong>7. Political debates are getting rough again.</strong></div><p>It starts with the rhetoric, and politicians were rough on each other in the 1800s. Sen. Charles Sumner spent hours calling an opponent a “pimp” and mocking his limp and speech impediment, both of which were caused by a stroke. The <a href="http://history1800s.about.com/od/abrahamlincoln/a/Lincoln-Douglas-Seven-Facts.htm" target="_blank">Lincoln-Douglas debates</a> of 1858, when they ran against each other for the Senate, included racial slurs and other insults (although Douglas graciously held Lincoln’s hat while he was sworn in as president, after losing to him in the 1860 election).</p><p>In the days of duels and fights of honor, political rhetoric quickly escalated into violence. Perhaps the most famous incident of pol-on-pol violence was the caning of abolitionist Sen. Sumner on the floor of the Senate by pro-slavery Rep. Preston Brooks, as another Southern congressman held a pistol on observers to prevent them from intervening.</p><p>Representatives were seen c<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/opinion/12freeman.html?_r=0" target="_blank">arrying guns on the floor of Congress</a> in 1836. One representative drew a gun on a witness during a hearing that year.  In 1842 a Whig Party congressman from Tennessee was threatened with a knife by fellow party members. </p><p>Today a new era of incivility has dawned in the capitol building. Its watershed moment may have been the day Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” at President Obama as the President addressed a joint session of Congress. While Wilson was eventually admonished by the House, the vote was almost entirely along party lines. (Only seven Republicans joined with Democrats on the vote.)</p><p>Wilson was able to beat his nearest primary challenger by nine points the following year, and to run unopposed in the general election. He received 96 percent of the vote.</p><p>The gloves are off, and the new harsh rhetoric is coming almost exclusively from a party that refuses to sanction its members for it. Rep. Michele Bachmann has been a one-person factory for inflammatory quotes. And in a very 19th century—and very crude—letter, Republican Rep. Allen West wrote to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz: "You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!” West has also said that Nazi leader Josef Goebbels would be “very proud” of Democrats, and that liberals should “get the hell out of the United States.”</p><p>Fortunately, government leaders have yet to turn on one another physically. But that day may be coming. Michael Schwartz, Chief of Staff for Sen. Tom Coburn, said <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/09/10/18-outrageous-christian-right-quotes.html" target="_blank">this</a>: “I’m a radical! I’m a real extremist. I don’t want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!” </p><p>Rep. Peter King has been a one-man hate campaign against Americans of the Muslim faith, and he has not been censured or reprimanded by his party in any way for his hate-filled rhetoric.</p><p>In 1884, a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine accused the Democrats of being the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” This anti-Catholic slur caused Blaine to lose the state of New York, giving the presidency to Grover Cleveland. Democrats may be hoping that comments like King’s will help to reproduce such election results in coming years.</p> Wed, 02 Oct 2013 07:57:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 904338 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy america Why Breaking Bad's Walter White Is the Epitomal Greedy American CEO http://farfallino.alternet.org/why-breaking-bads-walter-white-epitomal-greedy-american-ceo <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Walter White has a lot in common with the Masters of the Universe. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-09-30_at_11.51.52_am_0.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <blockquote><p><em>Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly-up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me.</em>—Walter White</p></blockquote><p>Before the post-finale <em>Breaking Bad </em>chatter dies down for good, let’s not overlook one of the show’s most instructive features: In many ways, Walter White is a quintessentially modern American CEO. While White spouted a lot of figures and formulas in five seasons of television, but there’s one number his character embodied more than any other: the 1 percent, and his insatiable drive to be part of it.</p><p>It’s all there: the ego, the entitlement, the testosterone-fueled drive to come out on top, and the sense that money, not character or relationships, defines a person’s worth. Above all else, there's the sense that even the most venal and criminal of enterprises becomes ennobling when you earn lots of money for it.</p><p>I'm not saying that every chief executive officer is like Walter White. The ones who invent a product, create jobs, build wealth for themselves and others, are a different breed. They’re also increasingly rare, as more and more CEOs earn their livings by manipulating politicians, deceiving shareholders, and playing a better game of corporate politics than their competitors.</p><p>If you don’t think Walter White was brilliant at corporate politics, as brilliant as Jamie Dimon or any other real-life CEO, think again: His relationship to Gus Fring alternated between braggadocio and utter servility, and ultimately ended with murderous treachery. What corporate executive hasn’t seen that drama played out over and over (if not with the last part enacted so literally)?</p><p>Walt’s is a story of sublimated drives released by unforeseen events. Consider his character arc: Brilliant chemist once owned one-third of a company that’s now worth billions, but was cheated out of his share somehow (possibly by himself). He became a mild-mannered, lower-middle-income chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, where he might have been content to remain until terminal cancer forced him into an existential crisis. Then, confronted with a lifetime’s worth of resentment, Walt’s drive to become a master of that universe kicks in.</p><p>Soon after that, Walter White joins the 1 percent – then ascends to the 0.1 percent, the 0.01 percent, and beyond. What does he say to his wife in his shattering telephone tirade during the episode “Ozymandias”:</p><p>“You, you have no right to discuss anything about what I do. Oh, what the hell do you know about it anyway? Nothing. I built this. Me. Me alone. Nobody else!”</p><p>This speech mixes cunning and fury, guile and animal rage, as Walt calculatingly exonerates Skyler while at the same time breaking down with genuine emotion.</p><p>White can make more of a case for having built something than most American CEOs, many of whom depend on implicit or direct government support for their wealth. (Think Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase, David Cote at defense contractor Honeywell, or Jeffrey Immelt at GE and GE Capital.)</p><p>Walt, on the other hand, actually <em>did</em> build his own empire. But he had a lot of help, from line employees like Badger and Skinny Pete, from organizational predecessors like Gus Fring, and most of all from loyal lieutenant Jesse Pinkman, whom Walt sometimes treated like a son but never like a business equal. Walt displayed CEO characteristics from the start, snarling at his underling and demanding near-impossible accomplishments from him. Arrogant and entitled, Walt took on Jesse’s successes as his own. He couldn’t bring himself to praise an underling, even when it would serve his business interests. Only after Jesse rejects a partnership offer and points out that Walt consistently criticized the quality of his work is White able to say “Your meth is good, Jesse. As good as mine.”</p><p>In the beginning, Jesse only became his partner because White threatened to turn him in to the authorities. But their tense partnership works, thanks to Walt’s insatiable drive. They gradually take over the distribution networks for their product, a project mainly achieved through murder, a technique which distinguishes Walt from his more mainstream peers.</p><p>Like many CEOs, Walt was a perfectionist, a taskmaster with decidedly anal-retentive tendencies. This is not always a bad thing in an executive, by any means, and Walt’s obsessive traits help build his enterprise into a success. In fact, Walt’s emphasis on customer satisfaction puts him ahead of many other American CEOs. “There’s no room for error with these people,” Walt says of their clients.  Too bad more executives don’t think that way about their customers.</p><p>But Walt was always a cheater, on matters large and small. Early on, when he and Jesse flip a coin to decide who must kill their captive Krazy-8, Walt loses and promptly asks: “Best two out of three?” </p><p>He was a con artist, too, and the person he conned most successfully was himself. That may be the most distinctive trait he shares with so many of his fellow CEOs: the ability to believe he’s a self-made man, a “job creator,” indispensable.</p><p>Consider the quote at the beginning of this piece. Contrary to Walt’s self-important ravings, he didn’t “create” an $80 billion business. He took over a business that was already thriving when Gus Fring ran it. And it didn’t go "belly up,” “disappear,” or otherwise “cease to exist” when Walt left for the snow-covered wilds of New Hampshire. It continued to thrive, with distribution in Lydia’s capable hands and manufacturing – Walt’s specialty – adequately being handled by a gang of neo-Nazis and Jesse as a captive worker.</p><p>Walt was always able to convince himself he was a good person, a wise person, even an enlightened being. He purloins a quote from no less a sage than the Buddha when, early on, Jesse asks why he wants to go into the meth business.</p><p>“I am <em>awake</em>,” Walt answers.</p><p>When the Buddha achieved enlightenment and his peers saw the spiritual transformation in him, they asked if he was a god, a human being, or something else. “I am awake,” replied the Buddha.</p><p>As we quickly learn, Walter White is no Buddha.</p><p>It’s no mistake that Walt says his business is “big enough to be listed on NASDAQ.” That’s where technology businesses, presumably including his old company Gray Matter, list their stocks. Walt doesn’t see himself as a drug dealer; he's a tech entrepreneur.</p><p>Walter also had a habit of deluding himself into thinking he was on the side of justice. Like his peers in Fix the Debt, it was easy for him to confuse his own well-being and that of his heirs with the best interests of the world as a whole. After he terrorizes and threatens his wealthy ex-partners into passing drug money to his unknowing son (an act that would morally horrify the boy), he assumes the moral high ground. “Cheer up, beautiful people,” he tells them. “This is where you get to make it right.”</p><p>The law was never an impediment for Walter White. In fact, he derived a physical pleasure from breaking it. “Why was that so good?” Skyler asks him after they have sex in the car. “Because it was illegal,” says Walt.</p><p>Like many a CEO, Walt saw everything in terms of winning and losing. He poisoned a child and bombed a nursing home to defeat Gus Fring, and when Fring was dead and Skyler asked what happened, Walt’s answer said it all: “I won.” It was reminiscent of the way Wall Street traders would cheat their own customers, then get off the phone and exult, “I ripped his face off.”</p><p>Like many other CEOs, Walt claimed all his misdeeds were done for the sake of his family. That places a moral burden on his wife that isn’t lifted until the final episode, when he admits: “I did it for me.” That moment of honesty places Walter White on a higher moral plane, at least in that respect, from many of his more legitimate peers.</p><p>In the end, it’s all about male competition, a drive that leads to arguably the best soliloquy of the series:</p><p>Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn't believe it … No, you clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. <em>I am the one who knocks</em>! </p><p>Fans of this powerful speech may have forgotten that when it was delivered, Walt had just escaped a long stretch of degrading servitude – and yes, danger – at the hands of Gus Fring.</p><p>“Say my name,” White says to a meth distributor, completing the process of ending his seemingly endless period of humiliation and near enslavement. Walt’s denial of this humiliation—his refusal to admit it even happened—leads to his final run of hubris and his inability to leave the meth business behind. As with his real-life contemporaries, there is never enough money, enough power, enough ego gratification, to satisfy Walter White.</p><p>Viewers who watched the final episode of <em>Breaking Bad</em> didn’t realize they had already seen Walt die. Walter White didn’t die from a gunshot wound, lovingly caressing a piece of equipment in the meth lab. He died the day he left for New Hampshire, because that’s the day his business continued to exist without him.</p><p>The title of the last episode was “Felina” (an anagram of “finale”). It’s also the name of the woman in Marty Robbins’ song “El Paso,” in which a fugitive cowboy returns to see the love of his life one last time, even though he knows he’ll die in the attempt<em>:</em>"<em>One final kiss and Felina, goodbye….</em>"</p><p>The cowboy couldn't live without Felina, his love. But Walter White, American CEO, couldn’t fully love a human being. In a flashback to his romance with fellow chemist and future billionaire Gretchen Schwartz, a dialog about the chemical components of a human being ends this way:</p><p>Gretchen: What about the soul?  <br />Walt: The soul? There's nothing but chemistry here.  </p><p>Walt’s true love was his business and his product. His days in that snowbound cabin were a kind of hellish afterlife, because without his business Walt is no longer alive.</p><p>Walter White tied up the loose ends in his life before dying as he wanted to die. That, more than anything else, separates him from his CEO peers in the real world. As some of them are starting to learn, in real life it’s not always that easy to close the door on the misdeeds of the past.</p> Tue, 01 Oct 2013 12:43:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 904010 at http://farfallino.alternet.org breaking bad 11 Questions You Should Ask Libertarians to See if They're Hypocrites http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/11-questions-you-should-ask-libertarians-see-if-theyre-hypocrites <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We aren’t suggesting every libertarian is a hypocrite, but there’s an easy way to find out.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-03-07_at_10.10.00_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Libertarians have a problem. Their political philosophy all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century, but was revived by billionaires and corporations that found them politically useful. And yet libertarianism retains the qualities that led to its disappearance from the public stage, before its reanimation by people like the Koch brothers: It doesn’t make any sense.</p><p>They call themselves “realists” but rely on fanciful theories that have never predicted real-world behavior. They claim that selfishness makes things better for everybody, when history shows exactly the opposite is true. They claim that a mythical “free market” is better at everything than the government is, yet when they really need government protection, they’re the first to clamor for it.</p><p>That’s no reason not to work with them on areas where they’re in agreement with people like me. In fact, the unconventionality of their thought has led libertarians to be among this nation’s most forthright and outspoken advocates for civil liberties and against military interventions.</p><p>Merriam-Webster defines “hypocrisy” as “feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” We aren’t suggesting every libertarian is a hypocrite. But there’s an easy way to find out.</p><p><strong>The Other Libertarianism</strong></p><p>First, some background. There is a kind of libertarianism that’s nothing more or less than a strain in the American psyche, an emotional tendency toward individualism and personal liberty. That’s fine and even admirable. </p><p>We’re talking about the other libertarianism, the political philosophy whose avatar is the late writer Ayn Rand. It was once thought that this extreme brand of libertarianism, one that celebrates greed and even brutality, had died in the early 1980s with Rand herself. Many Rand acolytes had already gone underground, repressing or disavowing the more extreme statements of their youth and attempting to blend in with more mainstream schools of thought in respectable occupations.</p><p>There was a good reason for that. Randian libertarianism is an illogical, impractical, inhumane, unpopular set of Utopian ravings which lacks internal coherence and has never predicted real-world behavior anywhere. That’s why, reasonably enough, the libertarian movement evaporated in the late 20th century, its followers scattered like the wind.</p><p><strong>Pay to Play</strong></p><p>But the libertarian movement has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, and there’s a simple reason for that: money, and the personal interests of some people who have a lot of it. Once relegated to drug-fueled college-dorm bull sessions, political libertarianism suddenly had pretensions of legitimacy. This revival is Koch-fueled, not coke-fueled, and exists only because in political debate, as in so many other walks of life, cash is king.</p><p>The Koch brothers are principal funders of the Reason Foundation and <em>Reason</em> magazine. Exxon Mobil and other corporate and billionaire interests are behind the Cato Institute, the other public face of libertarianism. Financiers have also seeded a number of economics schools, think tanks, and other institutions with proponents of their brand of libertarianism. It’s easy to explain why some of these corporate interests do it. It serves the self-interest of the environmental polluters, for example, to promote a political philosophy which argues that regulation is bad and the market will correct itself. And every wealthy individual benefits from tax cuts for the rich. What better way to justify that than with a philosophy that says they’re rich because they’re <em>better—</em>and that those tax cuts help everybody<em>?</em></p><p>The rise of the Silicon Valley economy has also contributed to the libertarian resurgence. A lot of Internet billionaires are nerds who suddenly find themselves rich and powerful, and they’re emotionally and intellectually inclined toward libertarianism’s geeky and unrealistic vision of a free market. In their minds its ideas are "heuristic," "autologous" and "cybernetic"—all of which has inherent attraction in their culture.</p><p>The only problem is: It’s only a dream. At no time or place in human history has there been a working libertarian society which provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide. But libertarianism’s self-created mythos claims that it’s more <em>realistic</em> than other ideologies, which is the opposite of the truth. The slope from that contradiction to the deep well of hypocrisy is slippery, steep—and easy to identify.</p><p><strong>The Libertarian Hypocrisy Test</strong></p><p>That’s where the Libertarian Hypocrisy Test comes in. Let’s say we have a libertarian friend, and we want to know whether or not he’s hypocritical about his beliefs. How would we go about conducting such a test? The best way is to use the tenets of his philosophy to draw up a series of questions to explore his belief system.</p><p>The Cato Institute’s overview of <a href="http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/key-concepts-libertarianism">key libertarian concepts</a> mixes universally acceptable bromides like the "rule of law” and “individual rights” with principles that are more characteristically libertarian—and therefore more fantastical. Since virtually all people support the rule of law and individual rights, it is the other concepts which are uniquely libertarian and form the basis of our first few questions.</p><p>The Institute cites “spontaneous order,”  for example, as “the great insight of libertarian social analysis.” Cato defines that principle thusly:</p><blockquote><p>“… (O)rder in society arises spontaneously, out of the actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes.”</p></blockquote><p>To which the discerning reader might be tempted to ask: Like <em>where</em>, exactly? Libertarians define “spontaneous order” in a very narrow way—one that excludes demonstrations like the Arab Spring, elections which install progressive governments, or union movements, to name three examples. And yet each of these things are undertaken by individuals who "coordinated their actions with those of others" to achieve our purposes.</p><p>So our first hypocrisy test question is, <em>Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?</em></p><p>Cato also trumpets what it calls “The Virtue of Production” without ever defining what production <em>is.</em> Economics defines the term, but libertarianism is looser with its terminology. That was easier to get away with in the Industrial Age, when “production” meant a car, or a shovel, or a widget.</p><p>Today nearly 50 percent of corporate profits come from the financial sector—that is, from the manipulation of money. It’s more difficult to define “production,” and even harder to find its “virtue,” when the creation of wealth no longer necessarily leads to the creation of jobs, or economic growth, or anything except the enrichment of a few.</p><p>Which seems to be the point. Cato says, “Modern libertarians defend the right of productive people to keep what they earn, against a new class of politicians and bureaucrats who would seize their earnings to transfer them to nonproducers.”</p><p>Which gets us to our next test question: <em>Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?</em></p><p>Retail stores like Walmart and fast-food corporations like McDonalds cannot produce wealth without employees. Don’t those employees have the right to “coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes”—for example, in unions? You would think that free-market philosophers would encourage workers, as part of a free-market economy, to discover the market value for their services through negotiation.</p><p><em>Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?</em></p><p>The bankers who collude to deceive their customers, as US bankers did with the MERS mortgage system, were permitted to do so by the unwillingness of government to regulate them. The customers who were the victims of deception were essential to the production of Wall Street wealth. Why don’t libertarians recognize their role in the process, and their right to administer their own affairs?</p><p>That right includes the right to regulate the bankers who sell them mortgages. Libertarians say that the “free market” will help consumers. “Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized,” says Cato.</p><p>But victims of illegal foreclosure are neither “freer” nor “more prosperous” after the government deregulation which led to their exploitation. What’s more, deregulation has led to a series of documented banker crimes that include stockholder fraud and investor fraud. That leads us to our next test of libertarian hypocrisy: <em>Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?</em></p><p><strong>Digital Libertarians</strong></p><p>But few libertarians are as hypocritical as the billionaires who earned their fortunes in the tech world. Government created the Internet. Government financed the basic research that led to computing itself. And yet Internet libertarians are among the most politically extreme of them all.</p><p>Perhaps none is more extreme than Peter Thiel, who made his fortune with PayPal. In one infamous rant, Thiel complained about allowing women and people he describes as "welfare beneficiaries” (which might be reasonably interpreted as “minorities”) to vote. “Since 1920,” Thiel fulminated, “the extension of the franchise to (these two groups) have turned ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron."</p><p>With this remark, Thiel let something slip that extreme libertarians prefer to keep quiet: A lot of them don’t like democracy very much. In their world, democracy is a poor substitute for the iron-fisted rule of wealth, administered by those who hold the most of it. Our next test, therefore, is: <em>Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.</em></p><p>On this score, at least, Thiel is no hypocrite. He’s willing to freely say what others only think: Democracy should be replaced by the rule of wealthy people like himself.</p><p>But how did Peter Thiel and other Internet billionaires become wealthy? They hired government-educated employees to develop products protected by government copyrights. Those products used government-created computer technology and a government-created communications web to communicate with government-educated customers in order to generate wealth for themselves, which was then stored in government-protected banks—after which they began using that wealth to argue for the elimination of government.</p><p>By that standard, Thiel and his fellow “digital libertarians” are hypocrites of genuinely epic proportion. Which leads us to our next question: <em>Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?</em></p><p>Many libertarians will counter by saying that government has only two valid functions: to protect the national security and enforce intellectual property laws. By why only these two? If the mythical free market can solve any problem, including protecting the environment, why can’t it also protect us from foreign invaders and defend the copyrights that make these libertarians wealthy?</p><p>For that matter, why should these libertarians be allowed to hold patents at all? If the free market can decide how best to use our national resources, why shouldn’t it also decide how best to use Peter Thiel’s ideas, and whether or not to reward him for them? After all, if Thiel were a true Randian libertarian he’d use his ideas in a more superior fashion than anyone else—and he would be more ruthless in enforcing his rights to them than anyone else. <em>Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?</em></p><p><strong>Size Matters</strong></p><p>Our democratic process is highly flawed today, but that’s largely the result of corruption from corporate and billionaire money. And yet, libertarians celebrate the corrupting influence of big money. No wonder, since the same money is keeping their movement afloat and paying many of their salaries. But, aside from the naked self-interest, their position makes no sense. Why isn’t a democratically elected government the ultimate demonstration of “spontaneous order”? <em>Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?</em></p><p>We’re told that “big government” is bad for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is too large to be responsive. But if big governments are bad, why are big corporations so acceptable? What’s more, these massive institutions have been conducting an assault on the individual and collective freedoms of the American people <a href="http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/goodbye-liberty-10-ways-americans-are-no-longer-free">for decades.</a> Why isn’t it important to avoid the creation of monopolies, duopolies and syndicates that interfere with the free market’s ability to function?</p><p>Libertarians are right about one thing: Unchecked and undemocratic force is totalitarian. A totalitarian corporation, or a totalitarian government acting in concert with corporations, is at least as effective at suppressing the “spontaneous order” as a non-corporate totalitarian government. <em>Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?</em></p><p><strong>Extra Credit Questions</strong></p><p>Most libertarians prefer not to take their philosophy to its logical conclusions. While that may make them better human beings, it also shadows them with the taint of hypocrisy.  </p><p>Ayn Rand was an adamant opponent of good works, writing that “The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.” That raises another test for our libertarian: <em>Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?</em></p><p>There’s no reason not to form alliances with civil libertarians, or to shun them as human beings. Their erroneous thinking often arises from good impulses. But it is worth asking them one final question for our test.</p><p>Libertarianism would have died out as a philosophy if it weren’t for the funding that’s been lavished on the movement by billionaires like Thiel and the Kochs and corporations like ExxonMobil. So our final question is: <em>If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?</em></p> Wed, 11 Sep 2013 10:32:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 895184 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy libterarian 5 Wildly Offensive Comments and Actions by Rich Jerks http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/5-wildly-offensive-comments-and-actions-rich-jerks <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">&quot;I don&#039;t think the common person is getting it… if you’re lower income—one, you&#039;re not as educated, two, they don&#039;t understand how [the system] works.” </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-08-23_at_2.11.45_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>“The poor we shall always have with us,” said the Bible, and lately there are more of the poor than ever—over 50 million at last count. But that doesn’t stop wealthy Americans from saying things that reek of insensitivity and callousness toward those less fortunate than themselves, which nowadays is pretty much everybody.</p><p>The lordly indifference of the fabulously wealthy has left us with a rich cornucopia of blithely cold-hearted remarks and actions. Which of these rich folks made the most some objectionable, offensive or downright heartless comments? See for yourself.</p><p><strong>1. Mark Zuckerberg</strong></p><p>The Facebook CEO recently launched a “super-PAC,” aka influence-peddling organization, to represent his interests and that of his fellow Silicon Valley billionaires. A number of them <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/technology/fwdus-raises-uproar-with-advocacy-tactics.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">refused to join</a> on moral and ethical grounds, however (good on ya, Vinod Khosla and Josh Miller), leaving only the more venal among them on Zuckerberg’s roster of supporters.</p><p>The super-Pac’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/mark-zuckerberg-immigration-groups-status-stumbling-89652.html#ixzz2cjcm3cg9" target="_blank">prospectus</a> boasts that Zuckerberg and his fellow tech moguls have certain “tactical assets, including the fact that “We control massive distribution channels” and “We have individuals with a lot of money. If deployed properly this can have huge influence in the current campaign finance environment.”</p><p>In other words, “We can corrupt the political process even more than it already has been.”</p><p>During Facebook’s initial public offering, Zuckerberg made <a href="http://mashable.com/2012/02/02/facebook-priorities/" target="_blank">this claim</a> in a letter to potential investors: “We expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through their intermediaries controlled by a select few.”</p><p>We now learn that Zuckerberg doesn’t have a problem with “intermediaries controlled by a select few” after all, as long he’s doing the selecting.</p><p>But then, that particular statement’s the least of Zuckerberg’s post-IPO worries. The Facebook IPO resulted in a rash of <a href="http://allfacebook.com/form-10q-lawsuits_b122548" target="_blank">lawsuits</a> against Facebook, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/05/29/nasdaq-facebook-ipo-sec/2369493/" target="_blank">a $10 million fine</a> for the exchange that handled it, and a series of ongoing government investigations.</p><p>The super-PAC’s first initiative is supposed to be immigration reform. But the group’s been running ads and making other efforts to support a hard-right political agenda, directly and through subsidiaries called Americans for Conservative Action and Council for American Job Growth. One ad <a href="http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/08/21/zuckerberg-and-rubio-pair-up-to-push-immigration-reform/" target="_blank">features</a> conservative Republican Marco Rubio. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/technology/fwdus-raises-uproar-with-advocacy-tactics.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Others</a> oppose Obamacare and promote the environmentally destructive Keystone XL pipeline.</p><p>That’s not “disruptive,” to use a favored Silicon Valley term. It’s destructive. And it’s sleazebag politics as usual. That super-PAC prospectus also boasts that “Our voice carries a lot of weight because we are broadly popular with Americans,” but it’s been doing its best to change that.</p><p>Zuckerberg’s fond of saying “Move fast and break things.” Yeah—like democracy. </p><p><strong>2. Peter Shih</strong></p><p>Whatever his other faults, Zuckerberg chooses his public words pretty carefully. That’s not true of Zuckerberg wannabe Peter Shih. Shih’s recent product of tech incubator <a href="http://ycombinator.com/" target="_blank">ycombinator</a> makes him more of an incubating tycoon than a present-day one.</p><p>Listen to what Shih had to say in a recent blog rant against San Francisco. The post, titled "<a href="http://uptownalmanac.com/2013/08/tech-founder-complains-about-shithole-city-hes-forced-make-his-millions" target="_blank">10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition</a>," managed to be profoundly offensive to … well, just <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/16/peter-shih_n_3768505.html" target="_blank">read the excerpts</a> yourself:</p><ul><li>“I hate how the weather here is like a woman who is constantly PMSing.”</li><li>"I'm referring to all the girls who are obviously 4's and behave like they are 9's. Just because San Francisco has the worst Female to Male ratio in the known universe doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch all the time.”</li><li>“Stop giving [homeless people] money, you know they just buy alcohol and drugs with it right?…. I'm seriously tempted to start fucking with people and pay for homeless guys to ride the Powell street cable cars in the middle of the day, that ought to get the city's attention.”</li></ul><p>Shih also complains about “public transit being non-existent past midnight and the transvestite to taxi ratio being quite literally off the charts.” You can’t condemn a whole group of people because one person’s offensiveness is “off the charts.” But Shih is representative of the tech subculture, at least when it comes to some of its least flattering attributes – like excessive self-regard and the improper application of testosterone-fueled energy.</p><p><strong>3. Eric Schmidt</strong></p><p>Google CEO Eric Schmidt airily dismissed Google users' concerns about privacy this way in a 2009 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/07/google-ceo-on-privacy-if_n_383105.html" target="_blank">television interview</a>: “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.”</p><p>Now Google has formalized Schmidt’s indifference to civil liberties. Last month it made this claim in <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/gmail-privacy-google-court-brief-2013-8" target="_blank">a motion</a> to dismiss a class action suit: "people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery.”</p><p>Google went on to approvingly quote a 1979 ruling which said that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” </p><p>Google’s position is, therefore, that any Gmail user—or anybody who sends an email to a Gmail user—has no right to expect their communication to remain private. We’ll say this for Mr. Schmidt: We can’t say he didn’t warn us. </p><p><strong>4. Marissa Mayer</strong></p><p>Last year Yahoo! announced that Marissa Mayer, a longtime tech star at Google, was going to be its new CEO. Later that day Mayer announced she was pregnant. That was a good moment for society: The USA was overdue for a pregnant celebrity CEO.</p><p>Mayer built a nursery right next to her office so she could bring her infant son to work. That was a nice moment, but it didn’t last long. She then promptly <a href="http://www.blogher.com/frame.php?url=http://allthingsd.com/20130222/physically-together-heres-the-internal-yahoo-no-work-from-home-memo-which-extends-beyond-remote-workers/?mod=obinsite" target="_blank">ended the company’s policy</a> of letting people work from home, a sign that she lacks empathy toward less fortunate parents. She then improved Yahoo’s parental leave policy—also nice (and necessary if you want to get and keep good Silicon Valley employees). But she did it in a way that <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/maternity-paternity-leave-policies-at-google-facebook-yahoo-twitter-microsoft-2013-8" target="_blank">favors biological birth parents</a> over those who adopt.</p><p>Mayer also stereotyped and demeaned the feminists who made her success possible:</p><blockquote><p>"I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I’d certainly believe in equal rights … But I don’t I think have sort of militant drive and the sort of chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. I think it’s too bad but I do think feminism has become in many ways a more negative word…"</p></blockquote><p>But what she didn’t say was as insensitive as what she did say. For context it should be noted Mayer lives well. The Gilded Age lifestyle choices described in a recent Vogue include “glitzy parties,” Mozart tunes playing on a “computer-driven baby grand piano,” and the “two-story, miniaturized model of Palo Alto’s Peninsula Creamery” in her backyard.</p><p>Mayer can spend her money as she likes, but that kind of spending becomes distasteful if the person is also part of an effort to keep the working poor in poverty. Mayer is on the Walmart board of directors, and Walmart is actively <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/07/10/wal-marts-threatening-to-pull-out-of-d-c-if-it-has-to-pay-a-higher-minimum-wage-so-what/" target="_blank">resisting increases to the minimum wage</a>. Walmart’s wages are so low many of the people who work there—many of them parents—need government help to get medical care and eat an adequate diet.</p><p>Mayer had the chance to meet with Walmart workers who were unjustly fired after protesting the corporation’s policies, but she <a href="http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/yahoo-ceo-and-walmart.html" target="_blank">refused to speak with them</a>. She had them arrested instead. </p><p>Mayer’s public silence doesn’t just extend to mistreated Walmart workers. She prefers to let others do her political talking, too. Yahoo! is part of Zuckerberg’s right-wing super-PAC. It also <a href="http://walmart1percent.org/2013/08/12/political-affiliations-reveal-another-side-of-yahoo-and-ceo-marissa-mayer/" target="_blank">reportedly remained</a> in the Koch brothers far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), even after <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/04/mcdonalds-alec-pepsi-kraft-voter-id" target="_blank">many other corporations</a> publicly left the group over its extremist policies.</p><p>If you’re going to live a life of glamor and opulence, it’s best not to project such insensitivity toward other, less fortunate parents. Or to back politicians who are bent on destroying the social safety net.</p><p><strong>5. Daniel S. Loeb</strong></p><p>Mayer reportedly got her job through the machinations of hedge fund manager and Yahoo! board member Daniel S. Loeb, who’s known for his relentless publicity-seeking and self-promotion, as well as for his tasteless political comments.</p><p>The most notorious of those comments can be found in an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/31/dan-loeb_n_700617.html" target="_blank">Investor Letter</a> Loeb sent around last year, which suggested that President Obama’s political agenda was the “redistribution of wealth.” That’s a pretty extreme claim to make, especially when wages have remained stagnant for most Americans and wealth inequality has grown even more pronounced.</p><p>As the <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/159874584/AFL-CIO-induces-Loeb-labor-pains" target="_blank">AFL-CIO</a> recently pointed out, it also appears that Loeb’s “reinsurance company” may not be in the reinsurance business at all, but has incorporated itself as a Bermuda reinsurer in order to get around U.S. regulations and safeguards. Loeb may think that’s justifiable gamesmanship, given his expressed hostility toward regulation. But his Wall Street peers destroyed the economy the last time they were allowed an unregulated play period with the world’s money.</p><p>Loeb is reportedly a Democrat who backed Obama in 2008. But in 2012 he co-hosted a $25,000 per guest Romney fundraiser which made <a href="http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/loeb_daniel" target="_blank">the wrong kind of headlines</a>:</p><blockquote><p>"I don't think the common person is getting it,” said one Loeb guest. “. … I just think if you’re lower income—one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how [the system] works.” </p></blockquote><p>Loeb spouts enough economic misinformation and extremist cant to earn an honorary membership in the Tea Party. He’s distressed about proposals to end loopholes for hedge fund managers and tax them the same way ordinary people are taxed – teachers, for example, and police officers. So he uses historical quotes to describe those proposals, which are far more modest than tax regulations under presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, as “oppression” of a “minority” and “tak(ing) from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”</p><p><strong>6. Steve Schwarzman</strong></p><p>Hedge funder Steve Schwarzman makes Loeb sound like the Dalai Lama. It was <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-schwarzman-taxes-hitler-invaded-poland-2010-8" target="_blank">Schwarzman</a> who famously compared the idea of taxing hedge funders to an infamous Nazi act of war. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939,” said Schwarzman.</p><p>Schwarzman also … oh, why bother? That pretty much closes the case against him.</p><p>A lot of wealthy people aren’t on the list, of course, because they’re fair and reasonable people. But <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673129/money-turns-people-into-jerks-says-science" target="_blank">scientific research</a> tells us that the wealthier classes are more inclined toward selfishness, arrogance and a sense of entitlement. They can hold some pretty extreme <a href="http://ourfuture.org/20120919/the-radical-rich-moving-from-romney-to-re-occupy" target="_blank">political views</a>, too.</p><p>So as the rich continue to inherit the earth, we’ll be hearing a lot more the wealthy people who, like Zuckerberg and Mayer, want to corrupt the political process; those who are aggressively ignorant of political and constitutional principles, like Schmidt and Loeb; and the ones who are just loudmouthed jerks like the other guys on this list.</p> Fri, 23 Aug 2013 11:05:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 886687 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy wealth rich 7 Things About Prosecuting Wall Street You Wanted to Know (But Were Too Depressed to Ask) http://farfallino.alternet.org/7-things-about-prosecuting-wall-street-you-wanted-know-were-too-depressed-ask <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Why haven&#039;t any bankers gone to jail? What&#039;s going on in this country?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1375967952896-3-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><p>President Obama's Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Eric Holder, hasn't indicted a single bank executive for the massive Wall Street crime wave that devastated the economy. The regulatory reform which followed the 2008 crisis wasn't nearly enough, and yet Republicans are trying to weaken even that.</p><p>And just this week there were several news stories about bank crime. What do they mean? Why haven't any bankers gone to jail? What's going on in this country?</p><p>Here are seven things about Wall Street crime and Washington "justice" you might have wanted to know, but were probably too depressed to ask. It's true that there's a shortage of justice where bankers are concerned. But don't get depressed. Get serious - about demanding change.</p><p><strong>1. Why did Holder say mega-banks are "too big to jail"?</strong></p><p>Attorney General Holder recently <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/eric-holder-banks-too-big_n_2821741.html" target="_blank">said</a> the Justice Department can't indict too-big-to-fail banks because it would endanger the nation's, and possible the world's, economy. Those comments were misleading at best, because Holder doesn't offer any plausible reason not to indict individual bank executives at those institutions.</p><p>Criminal indictments against bankers are necessary -- both for the cause of justice, and the safety of our economy. And yet no bank executives have faced criminal prosecution.</p><p>Why did Holder make these comments? It's called misdirection. It gets everybody thinking about one question -- Why aren't they indicting banks? -- so they won't think about a more important question: Why aren't they indicting bankers?</p><p><strong>2. If hurting 'too big to fail' banks is such a concern, why did the Justice Department and the SEC just sue Bank of America? By some measures it's the biggest mega-bank of them all.</strong></p><p>The <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-sues-bank-of-america-over-sale-of-850m-in-mortgage-backed-securities/2013/08/06/461db552-fecf-11e2-9a3e-916de805f65d_story.html" target="_blank">latest lawsuit</a> against Bank of America describes massive, systematic, and very deliberate fraud against investors who backed residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). Those investors included many pension funds, like the one that serves Detroit's retirees. There's evidence BofA bankers knowingly sold securities in which up to 40 percent of the mortgages failed to meet underwriting standards. That's against the law.</p><p>Shareholders bear the costs and the consequences of these suits, which are directed against the banks as institutions -- even when the suit in question involves fraud against the shareholders themselves. That means the executives who profit from criminal behavior have absolutely no reason not to commit those crimes again and again and again -- which, as the record shows, is exactly what they have been doing.</p><p>Suits like these do not endanger the institution being sued. The amounts of money involved -- $850 million, in this case -- sound large. But they're negligible when compared to the revenue at America's bloated mega-banks.</p><p>The Justice Department's indictment says things like this: "The Offering Documents contained untrue statements of material fact and omitted to state other material facts required to be disclosed that misled investors." Note the use of the passive voice: The indictment doesn't say "Defendants A through E published untrue statements..."</p><p>For the first statement to be true, the second statement must also be true. But to hear the Justice Department tell it, it's as if these frauds committed themselves. Its pattern has been: Sue the bank, but only for amounts it can easily pay. And never hold the individuals who committed the fraud personally responsible.</p><p><strong>3. Why sue Bank of America at all, if they're in the banks' pockets?</strong></p><p>Here we're getting into the realm of speculation. But Washington officials have multiple constituencies, presumably including wronged investors who want restitution of some kind.</p><p>They presumably want to make sure the banks' exposure is kept manageable -- from the bank's perspective -- but don't want to anger the investors any more than necessary.</p><p><strong>4. The Justice Department has said it's too hard to get convictions in financial fraud cases. Is that true?</strong></p><p>They've said it <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/why-no-financial-crisis-prosecutions-official-says-its-just-too-hard" target="_blank">again</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/08/criminal-charges-wall-street_n_1857926.html" target="_blank">again</a>: It's too hard to win convictions in financial fraud cases. The brief response to that is: How would they know? They've never tried.</p><p>The longer answer to this question is:</p><p>More than 1,000 people were convicted after the much smaller savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. These are the words of law and economics professor William K. Black Jr., who was a regulator during that period:</p><p>"In the Savings and Loans crisis, which was 1/70th the size of this crisis, our agency made over 10,000 criminal referrals that resulted in the conviction on felony grounds of over 1,000 elites in what were designated as major cases."</p><p>It wasn't "too hard" to get a conviction then. But then, in those days they were trying.</p><p>It wasn't hard to get convictions against low-level employees of GE Capital were <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20120626/wall-streets-city-bid-rigging-racket-who-ran-it-how-many-billions-are-missing-wheres-the-investigation" target="_blank">last year</a>, on very complex charges involving bid-rigging fraud against municipalities.</p><p>That indictment -- United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm -- wasn't brought by the President's much-touted Mortgage Fraud Task Force, which has yet to produce any criminal indictments. Instead it was successfully prosecuted by local US attorneys.</p><p>A rare courtroom victory against Goldman Sachs was achieved just last week. Needless to say, it was not against a Goldman executive, but against a relatively junior employee, trader "Fab" Tourre. It was not a criminal prosecution, but a civil case. And the verdict was won by the SEC, not the Justice Department.</p><p><strong>5. Why don't they want to indict bank executives?</strong></p><p>Again, we're dealing in speculation. But it isn't hard to come up with a guess. Both Attorney General Holder and his recently departed No. 2, Lanny Breuer, had high-priced jobs defending Wall Street bank executives. Breuer has already cashed out and gone back to Covington &amp; Burling, Holder's once (and future?) firm, with a special title and position created especially for him.</p><p>As for elected officials, let's face it: Bank executives write very big campaign checks. They also hobnob with powerful politicians. When JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this year about the "London Whale" scandal, only two of the senators facing him had not received campaign contributions from his bank.  Dimon was also called "Obama's Favorite Banker" for a while.</p><p>Another executive with a large financial operation, GE's Jeffrey Immelt, was named head of the President's 'Jobs Council.' Immelt was responsible for GE Capital while those municipalities were being criminally defrauded in the case which became United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm.</p><p><strong>6. Why are they saying that the SEC's "winding down" its fraud investigations?</strong></p><p>The Wall Street Journal ran an article today called "<a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323968704578652532030191970.html?KEYWORDS=sec" target="_blank">SEC's Hunt for Crisis-Era Wrongdoing Loses Steam</a>." The article says that "securities regulators are quietly winding down some of their highest-profile investigations related to the crisis."</p><p>The SEC's pursuit of lawbreaking Wall Streeters had "steam"? Who knew?</p><p>One possible, and flippant, answer to this question: They got "Fab" Tourre. Their work here is done.</p><p>Another, more serious answer -- the one the SEC prefer -- is that the impending statute of limitations makes it more difficult to keep pursuing pre-2008 misdeeds. There's some truth in that, although it underscores the bitter perception that the Justice Department and SEC chose to "run out the clock" on Wall Street's crimes.</p><p>There is, however, some research being conducted into useful legal avenues that still may be open under national and/or New York state law. Negotiators in civil cases are also able to demand leadership changes, admissions of wrongdoing, and personal liability. They just haven't done it.</p><p>There is no indication that Federal authorities have an appetite for either route, however.</p><p><strong>7. What can we do about it?</strong></p><p>Don't get depressed; get busy. Let elected officials, from the president on down, know that you want:</p><p>A full investigation of Wall Street crimes.</p><p>Expanded powers for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.</p><p>A reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and the breakup of too-big-to-fail banks.</p><p>A rejection of the Republicans' lunatic plans to take already-inadequate bank regulations and weaken or eliminate them.</p><p>No more deals where banks "neither admit nor deny wrongdoing."</p><p>You can also let them know that bankers sould personally pay for their misdeeds -- with their money, their reputations, and their jobs.</p><p>Lastly, you can demand new leadership at the Department of Justice -- leadership that takes the word "Justice" a little more seriously when it comes to Wall Street.</p><p><strong>UPDATE:</strong>Shortly after this was published a headline appeared on The Huffington Post which read "Criminal Investigation for JPMorgan." The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/jpmorgan-doj-investigation_n_3721741.html" target="_blank">accompanying story</a> by Shahien Nasipour says that the bank disclosed that it was under investigation as required by law in its quarterly filings. "The Justice Department told JPMorgan in May," says the story, "that prosecutors had 'preliminarily concluded' that the bank violated civil securities laws related to mortgage securities it packaged and sold from 2005 to 2007."</p><p>The New York Times website provides additional <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/jpmorgan-reveals-it-faces-civil-and-criminal-inquiries/?ref=global-home&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">additional detail</a> regarding the investigations, noting that "the civil division of the United States attorney's office for the Eastern District of California" - not that much-vaunted Mortgage Fraud Task Force - "has 'preliminarily concluded' that JPMorgan flouted federal laws ..."</p><p>That's a civil, not criminal, investigation. Add the Times: "The parallel criminal inquiry, according to one person briefed on the matter, is in a more preliminary stage."</p><p>In other words, there's no indication that any bankers will face prosecution in the foreseeable future. If that changes we'll let you know.</p><div> </div><div> </div><div> </div> Fri, 09 Aug 2013 08:33:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Huffington Post 880614 at http://farfallino.alternet.org wall street banks 8 Signs the Rich Have WAY Too Much Money http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/8-signs-rich-have-way-too-much-money <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Our country is increasingly being turned into a plaything for the ultra-rich.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-08-09_at_11.29.44_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The statistics about wealth inequality in this country are both astonishing and alarming. But statistics can’t tell the entire story if they’re presented in isolation. Our country is increasingly being turned into a plaything for the ultra-rich. </p><p>Here are seven signs that the ultra-wealthy Americans have way too much money.</p><p><strong>1. Jeff Bezos bought the second most influential newspaper in the country—and it barely dented his net worth.</strong></p><p>Two things always get a lot of coverage from reporters in this country—what billionaires do with their money, and anything that affects reporters. When Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, we got both.</p><p>There’s been a lot of speculation about what the Amazon founder might do with his new personal acquisition. Here’s an aspect of the story that’s gotten much less attention: The Post’s $250 million sale price is roughly 1/100th of Bezos’ reported net worth, which is said to be in excess of $22 billion.</p><p>That’s a lot of net worth for one individual. Granted, Bezos is much smarter than most of his peers. He’s got skills and he’s worked hard. Why shouldn’t he be rich? It’s the American way, after all. But does he need to be that rich? He didn’t get all that money on merit alone. Bezos has accumulated his massive fortune in part because tax policy has coddled him and his fellow billionaires, while most of the country is mired an ongoing financial struggle. </p><p><strong>2. They literally don’t know what to do with their money.</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/rich-americans-hoarding-cash_n_3720941.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">A new study</a> shows that the wealthy are holding on to far more of their money than before: 37 percent of their income goes unspent, a figure which is three times as large as it was in 2007. What’s more, they have more cash on hand, and 60 percent say they don’t plan to spend or invest it.</p><p>In other words, they’re getting more of out national income than ever before—and they’re hanging on to it, which means it isn’t creating jobs or economic growth.</p><p><strong>3. Corporate profits and wealthy income</strong>.</p><p>Corporate profits are capturing more of the nation’s income than they have for more than half a century. They stood at <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/business/economy/corporate-profits-soar-as-worker-income-limps.html?smid=tw-share&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">14.2 percent</a> as of the third quarter of 2012, which is higher than they’ve been since 1950, and their <a href="http://ycharts.com/indicators/corporate_profits_usgdp" target="_blank">after-tax performance</a> has stayed just as robust since then.</p><p>At the same time, the portion of our national income which goes to employees is the lowest it’s been in nearly half a century. (More <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/business/economy/corporate-profits-soar-as-worker-income-limps.html?smid=tw-share&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p><p>Wall Street greed and criminality caused the crisis of 2008, but government efforts since then have concentrated on rescuing banks, and on boosting stock market performance and other forms of profitability for corporations. And <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/business/economy/corporate-profits-soar-as-worker-income-limps.html?smid=tw-share" target="_blank">it shows</a>: Corporate earnings have risen by more than 20 percent each year on average since then, while disposable income has only risen by a meager 1.4 percent on average.</p><p>And even that isn’t equitably distributed. A <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130214/the-great-wealth-robbery" target="_blank">recent study</a> showed that the top 1 percent of earners has capture 121 percent of income gains since 2008, while the rest of the country fell behind.  The top 10 percent’s share of income is the highest it’s been since 1917—and maybe longer. This imbalance isn’t an act of God or a force of nature. It’s the result of a series of bad policy decisions,  about workplace rights, taxation, and where we expend our government’s resources.</p><p><strong>4. Internet billionaire Sean Parker had a multimillion-dollar “Lord of the Rings”-style wedding, and trashed a beautiful public glade to do it.</strong></p><p>Sean Parker is the Internet tycoon who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in <em>The Social Network</em>, probably to his everlasting regret. He was recently married, and wedding party caused quite a stir after it was written up on the Atlantic’s website as “<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/13/06/new-government-documents-show-the-sean-parker-wedding-is-the-perfect-parable-for-silicon-valley-excess/276521/" target="_blank">the perfect parable for Internet excess</a>.”</p><p>The Atlantic piece came after the California Coastal Commission wrote a scathing report claiming that Parker trashed an ecologically sensitive campground with a multi-million-dollar fantasy bash. The report said that bulldozers flattened part of the area, fake ruins were built, and other irreversible damage was done to the area, including a space that was set aside for public use. </p><p>Parker makes some decent points in <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/13/06/sean-parker-responds-to-redwoods-wedding-criticism-and-his-defense-is-actually-pretty-convincing/276553/" target="_blank">his rebuttal</a>, reminding people of his charitable good works and claiming that great care was taken to preserve the site. But what’s not in dispute is that Parker spent $4.5 million on the party and paid $2.5 million in fines as the result of the party’s environmental impact. (“We made some mistakes,” Parker acknowledges.)</p><p>It’s also <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2013/09/sean-parker-wedding-story" target="_blank">not in dispute</a> the party’s design was intended to “evoke” the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, that Parker sang a song from <em>The Little Mermaid</em> to his bride—“Look at this trove, treasures untold / How many wonders can one cavern hold?”—which is actually kind of sweet, when you think about it, or that Sting stood up to sing one of his songs a capella. The costume designer for <em>Lord of the Rings</em> designed outfits for all 354 guests at the party.</p><p>What Sean Parker doesn’t seem to understand is that, at its heart, this wasn’t about trashing Sean Parker. People were reacting about the unreal – and often deeply insensitive – world in which Sean Parker lives.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/07/01/why_real_journalists_hate_sean_parkers_wedding/" target="_blank">Andrew Leonard</a> wrote in an excellent piece, this “extravagant wedding was a slap in the face to anyone struggling to make ends meet in the United States. It was the perfect snapshot of 1 percent entitlement, as is the shock and anger that anyone would dare criticize it.”</p><p>Sean, best wishes to you and your bride on the occasion of your wedding. But you need to understand that other people fall in love, too, and have kids, and do all the things you do—but lots of them are struggling just to survive. They’re going to be a little touchy about something like this. So seriously, man: Have a little empathy—and a lot of gratitude.</p><p><strong>5. Just 400 families have more money than 60 percent of the entire country.</strong></p><p>Sean Parker and his friends might do well to ponder the inequality which allows them to live so well while so many suffer. They could start by considering this:</p><p>A mere 400 households have more net worth among them than is held by more than 60 percent of all US households. That comes to more than 60 million households, who among them possess less than these few families.</p><p>Americans are accustomed to feeling horrified at South American countries or medieval principalities in which a few powerful families rule over a struggling population. Guess what? In today’s USA, ancient feudalism lives again.</p><p><strong>6. Billionaires frequently aren’t ‘the best and the brightest.’</strong></p><p>Billionaires love to believe our society is a meritocracy, where the most talented become the most wealthy and successful. Of course, they would say that.</p><p>There’s no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg or the guys who created YouTube are smart and energetic. But do their accomplishments really deserve billions in compensation? Consider:</p><p>Zuckerberg didn’t foresee what Facebook would become. If he had, it wouldn’t be called “Facebook,” which is what they called the printed books Ivy League colleges used to print up with students’ pictures so they could get to know one another. Facebook.com was going to do that digitally—a cute idea, but not an especially profound one. </p><p>The users were the ones who turned it into a more flexible type of "social media." It’s true that Zuckerberg &amp; Co. were aggressive in capitalizing on that, but they weren’t visionaries.</p><p>The same is true of YouTube. While its three founders don’t <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouTube" target="_blank">entirely agree</a> about its origin, the most plausible story is that it’s called “YouTube” because they thought people would make videos of themselves and upload them – a lame idea which pretty much nobody wanted to do. Instead they figured out how to grab other media and put them up. (Another founder says it was supposed to be a video dating service.) The billions followed shortly thereafter.</p><p>You can list on one hand the Internet billionaires who have truly combined both vision and execution: Google. Amazon. eBay … we’re not even out of fingers yet.</p><p>There’s “You didn’t build that,” and now we can add “You didn’t think of that.” And even the brightest billionaire’s success includes a lot of lucky accidents. (And we haven’t even begun to talk about the heirs and heiresses yet.) So why do they have all that money?</p><p>We’re not saying they can’t be rich. But how much money do a few people need—or deserve?</p><p><strong>7. Lucky or not, they’ve got a lot of control over our government.</strong></p><p>“Of the people, by the people, and for the people”? That’s still true—for a few very rich people. The Sunlight Foundation offers these staggering statistics:</p><p>A mere 31,385 people – less than 0.01 percent of the nation’s population – contributed 28 percent of the country’s total political contributions. Nobody was elected to the House or Senate without their money.</p><p>As the Sunlight Foundation also notes, this elite group contributed at least $1.62 billion to political campaigns in 2012. (They probably also contributed the lion’s share of the $350 million in “dark money” which was spent that year.) Their median donation of $26,584 is larger than the average household income in this country.</p><p>84 percent of Congress took in more from the 0.01 percent than they did from all other donors combined.</p><p>They’re also spending like crazy at the state level. State candidates collected <a href="http://www.followthemoney.org/database/nationalview.phtml" target="_blank">nearly $2.8 billion</a> in 2012. It’s money well-spent, and not just for the influence it gives donors at the state level. This spending has also allowed them to gerrymander Congressional districts.</p><p>Gerrymandering has turned the House of Representatives into such <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/opinion/sunday/the-great-gerrymander-of-2012.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=1&amp;" target="_blank">an unrepresentative body</a> that Republicans now control it despite a 1.4 million loss to Democrats in the popular vote. It’s like they say: You get what you pay for.</p><p><strong>8. They control the media, too, which means they control what we see and hear as 'news.'</strong></p><p>The sale of the Washington Post barely scratches the surface of our media problem. There’s a reason why revolutionaries from 1919 onward have always gone for the radio stations (and later, the television stations) first. They understand that the media hold enormous power.</p><p>Thirty years ago, 50 companies controlled 90 percent of all the media in this country. <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6" target="_blank">Today</a> it’s six companies.</p><p>Those six companies include GE, owner of <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20110211/In_the_Dark_Crimes_Capital_Crimes_And_GE_Capital_Crimes" target="_blank">serial corporate criminal</a> GE Capital, and Newscorp, owned by the scandal-plagued Rupert Murdoch. (The others are Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, and CBS)</p><p>Americans rightfully despise totalitarian nations’  “state-controlled media.” But what happens when the same few people hold undue influence over the state and the media?</p><p><strong>The ultra-rich don’t even understand why people resent them or think they’re detached from real-world problems.</strong></p><p>The ultra-rich have used the wealth and political influence to promote policies which allow them to capture an ever-increasing share of our national income. That’s an unjust but self-perpetuating spiral that endangers our democracy, our financial security, even the free exchange of news and information.</p><p>And yet, one of their defining characteristics is their deep and abiding rage at the rest of the country. They resent the resentment of others. This fury was exemplified by Mitt Romney’s bitter but heartfelt “47 percent” rant, an outburst that echoed others from the group we’ve called “<a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20120919/the-radical-rich-moving-from-romney-to-re-occupy" target="_blank">the radical rich</a>.”</p><p>Even a relatively benign billionaire like Sean Parker isn’t immune to this affliction, as his angry rebuttals to the wedding criticism attest. Parker wrote of his wedding, "Our guests reached a beautiful gate in a clearing, just prior to entering the forest. Through that threshold, they left the ordinary world behind and entered an extraordinary world imagined as a kind of collaborative art project between me and my wife-to-be, Alexandra.”</p><p>That’s pretty much the problem in a nutshell: Billionaires increasingly control our world. But they don’t live here. They dwell in a Hobbit-like fantasy, far from our worries and fears, where our nation is becoming “a collaborative art project,” a media-made myth, a post-middle-class theme park – call it “AmericaLand” – complete with a make-believe middle class and an animatronic democracy.</p><p>But the rest of us are suffering the effects of growing wealth inequality: joblessness, soaring poverty rates, lack of access to education or municipal services. The ultra-wealthy may have passed through “a beautiful gate in clearing,” but the rest of us stand on the “threshold” of an increasingly grim world.</p><p>Forgive us for not willingly joining in the make-believe, but we have a nation to rebuild.</p> Fri, 09 Aug 2013 07:58:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 880611 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy wealth money rich How Do We Fight the Hate-Filled Right Wing Agenda Without Succumbing to Hate Ourselves? http://farfallino.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/how-do-we-fight-hate-filled-right-wing-agenda-without-succumbing-hate-ourselves <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">At what point is it reasonable or productive to suggest that we&#039;re dealing with bad people?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1372498003888-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>When is it fair to say that some political battles aren't just disagreements over policy, but actually represent a struggle between 'good' and 'evil' points of view? And when, if ever, is it helpful to say so?</p><p>There are those on the Right who debase the currency of that four-letter word - "evil" - by using it against anyone who disagrees with them. But what word do you apply to people who deny food to hungry families, voting rights to minorities, or a chance for self-advancement to hard-working students from lower-income homes?</p><p>How do you fight the hateful without succumbing to hate?</p><p>Reprehensible</p><p>Politics was once a collegial craft in this country. They called it the "art of compromise," and policy disagreements were handled without resorting to wholesale condemnation of one's opponents.</p><p>Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in Washington DC has pretty much abandoned that practice. They're also making hard not to respond in kind, since they keep on committing one reprehensible act after another.</p><p>In fact, that could be the new Republican Party's motto: one reprehensible act after another.</p><p>Note that we're speaking of the Republican Party's leaders, not its voters. Polls have shown that registered Republicans are a very different breed from the party's leadership. By large majorities, they want to preserve and strengthen Social Security. They support Medicare. GOP voters even supported a "public option" for healthcare and additional taxes on millionaires, if only by slim margins.</p><p>Sure, the Republican rank-and-file includes people who hold some pretty reprehensible ideas - about society, minorities, the poor, and women. But it also includes many people whose ideals, and whose beliefs about the nature of freedom, lead them to embrace political positions which many of us reject. That doesn't make them any less idealistic.</p><p>Party leaders, on the other hand, seems to hold no principles except self-interest. They've reversed themselves on core principles of individual liberty, states' rights, and privacy whenever it suits them. The only common thread has been their own power and the interests of their major funders.</p><p>Their track record is remarkably despicable. And just this week they make that record worse, by voting to take food from the mouths of hungry children.</p><p>Countdown to Starvation</p><p>First Republicans tried to cut $20 billion from the food stamp program. When that didn't work, they decided to try again - and doubled the figure to $<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/01/us-usa-congress-foodstamps-idUSBRE97012420130801">40 billion</a>. Who would that hurt? <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/snapmain.htm">Government data</a> tells us about the human beings who rely on "SNAP" assistance (its official name):</p><p>A record number of people - 47,661,353 Americans - are receiving food stamps this year.</p><p>SNAP's benefits are extremely modest. The average person receives $133.29 per month. That's $4.38 per day.</p><p>We should be doing more, not less, to help them.</p><p>In another cruel twist, Republicans also want to set a strict time limit of 90 days for SNAP assistance- supposedly to force recipients to find work. But most food stamp families - <a href="http://www.hungercoalition.org/news/philadelphia-inquirer-anger-area-over-cuts-food-stamps">62 percent</a>- already have a working adult in the home. The GOP is also refusing to raise the minimum wage, which means that figure will only get worse.</p><p>The Hoax</p><p>What's more, the notion that it takes three months to "find work" in this economy is a cruel hoax. More than 80 percent of food stamp homes include someone who has worked in the last year. But the GOP is fighting employment programs and cutting government jobs.</p><p>Instead of good work at good pay, all the Republicans is a 90-day countdown to starvation.</p><p>And yet Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman <a href="http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/08/food-stamps-need-to-be-cut-says-house-republians-92201.html#ixzz2apbozz9h">said</a>, presumably with a straight face, that "Most people will agree that if you are an able bodied adult without any kids you should find your way off food stamps."</p><p>Why act and speak so despicably? Some members of Congress don't understand what they're doing. (It's surprising to meet with Representatives and learn how little information they've sometimes have about even the most important isues.)</p><p>In addition, many (if not most) Republican politicos hold a reflexive hatred for all government. And all of them know where their party's corporate and billionaire backers stand on these issues. Sometimes that's all the information they need.</p><p>Hateful Deeds</p><p>Congressional Republicans passed a budget which included draconian cuts to most major government programs, and made those cuts worse by including increases to defense spending - increases which further enrich the defense contractors financing their campaigns.</p><p>They used previously routine budget votes to repeatedly hold the Federal government hostage. They did a dubious deal with the President to create the "sequester" - a kind of fiscal "doomsday machine" - and seem to have pulled a fast one: They pretended its cuts were unacceptable to them, but now seem quite willing to let them stand - or to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/04/eric-cantor-entitlement-cuts_n_3703856.html" target="_hplink">demand Social Security and Medicare cuts</a> in return for lifting them.</p><p>There's more than enough reason to fear that the President, who included Social Security cuts in his own budget, might be willing to collaborate rather than fight - a move which would be unpopular, unwise, unkind, and unnecessary.</p><p>Why unnecessary? Because Republicans are folding on the sequester. When confronted with the impact of cuts mandated in their own budget - in this case, to transportation and community block grants - many of them <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/01/republicans-didnt-have-the-stomach-for-housing-and-transportation-cuts-heres-why/">backed down</a> this week. Fortunately for the rest of us, they couldn't face the political heat.</p><p>On the Senate side, Republicans turned the filibuster and other procedural rules from rarely-invoked options into routinely deployed paralyzing maneuvers. Republicans under Mitch McConnell have transformed the Senate from a collegial body into an armed camp, and effectively changed it from a body which employs majority rule into one in which a minority can block any piece of legislation.</p><p>(Astonishingly, Democrats allowed this to happen without fighting back, and even now their opposition is scattered and weak.)</p><p>More Hateful Deeds</p><p>What else has the GOP wrought?</p><p><em>Massive lying and deception</em> - see "death panels" and suggestions that the President is a "socialist." (Too bad he isn't half the "socialist" that Republican Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were.)</p><p><em>A theocratic power grab</em>, with hateful rhetoric toward people with different beliefs - especially Muslims.</p><p><em>Suppressing the civil liberties</em> of women, African Americans, religious and ethnic minorities, and gays.</p><p><em>Undermining democracy</em> by deliberately disenfranchising poor and minority voters; and, perhaps most gravely for humanity's future,</p><p><em>Denying the reality of climate change</em>, despite overwhelming and conclusive scientific evidence.</p><p>Party leaders have lavished tax cuts on millionaires, billionaires, and corporations, while hammering the middle class. The Wall Street deregulation they promoted (with the collusion of 'centrist' Democrats) led to the financial crisis of 2008, which was almost a coup de grace for the American Dream. Now they're determined to finish the job.</p><p>These aren't aberrations. <a href="http://staging.ourfuture.org/category/featured-stories/this-is-the-gop">This is the GOP</a>.</p><p>The Rageful Rich</p><p>Which gets us back to our original question: At what point is it reasonable or productive to suggest that we're dealing with bad people?</p><p>The answer may be "Never." After all, saying it won't change their minds. Very few people believe that they're "bad." The GOP and its backers are no exception.</p><p>It's worth taking another look at Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video. What's really disturbing about that video is the authenticity of Romney's rage, and that of his listeners. Their shameful behavior is made possible by their genuine belief - however deluded - that the people they're hurting somehow deserve to be hurt.</p><p>The truth is, our words aren't likely to change their minds no matter <em>what </em>we say. So where does that leave us?</p><p>What's love got to do with it?</p><p>It was inspiring to watch civil rights leader turned Congressman <a href="http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-john-lewis-marches-on/">John Lewis</a> talk with Bill Moyers recently. Speaking of the bombers who murdered little girls in a Birmingham Sunday School, Rep. Lewis said: "They must be loved ... We must have the ability to forgive." And he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr:"</p><blockquote><p>We have to love the hell out of everybody ... It's a better way ... I made up my mind to love because hate is too heavy a burden to bear."</p></blockquote><p>Lewis told a story:</p><blockquote><p>"One of the people that beat me on the Freedom Ride in 1961 ... came to my office later with his son ... And he said, 'Mr. Lewis, I'm one of the people that beat you and left you bloody. Will you forgive me? I want to apologize.' His son started crying. He started crying. I started crying. He hugged me. I hugged him. He called me brother. I called him brother."</p></blockquote><p>John Lewis is a better human being than many of us. But he and Dr. King lay out a road worth following, even for those of us who lag far behind.</p><p>Judgment Day</p><p>Note, however, that Dr. King and Rep. Lewis said "forgive." They didn't say "forget." They didn't ask us to accept the unacceptable, or to pretend that the behavior of their opponents was anything other than immoral.</p><p>We have the obligation to judge right from wrong, and to resist what is wrong.</p><p>Yes, we also have the moral duty to forgive. But forgiveness can only be granted when the wrongdoing has stopped. And forgiveness has to be sought. Right now the GOP's leaders aren't asking for forgiveness. They're demanding surrender.</p><p>Therein lies one of the White House's fundamental errors: We all know that negotiation is necessary. You can even, as in the DC legend of Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Tip O'Neill, "have a beer afterwards."</p><p>But it's wrong to pretend that an immoral set of actions is moral just to expedite those negotiations, or to heighten your own political profile. That kind of pretense has a corrosive effect - on our political dialogue, our social values, and our national soul.</p><p>Breaking the Spell</p><p>Aside from the rare Hitler, we don't have the right to condemn other human beings in their totality. But we must be unhesitating and unsparing in our criticism of that which we believe to be wrong. That means speaking to the <em>actions</em> of our opponents, not their hearts.</p><p>It's a mistake to reflexively reject everything our opponents do, especially because we'll miss opportunities to work together. Personally, I think Sen. Rand Paul's positions on drone warfare and the NSA are motivated by idealism, and are far more ethical than that of many Democrats. That opens up the possibility of new alliances on certain issues.</p><p>It's true that, by and large, Republicans policies do terrible things to a lot of innocent people. We need leaders who'll fight those policies wholeheartedly, not ones who indulge in false equivalency or pretend to be "above left and right" out of self-interest.</p><p>The GOP's policies are horrifying. But the word "evil" is like a dangerous spell that can turn on the one who uses it. It can quickly turn righteous anger into inchoate rage, which makes a person less effective and occludes moral clarity.</p><p>In case you doubt that, just look at what it's done to the conservatives who use it so freely.</p><p>We'll need to find the strength to fight immoral behavior with all the strength at our command. But we'll need to do it without succumbing to hate. Because, in the end, the question isn't about who they are.</p><p>It's about who we are.<br />_______</p>ABOUT AUTHORRichard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer, is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the<a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/curbingwallstreet" target="_hplink"> Curbing Wall Street </a>project. Richard blogs at: Mon, 05 Aug 2013 13:25:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Curbing Wall St. Project 878597 at http://farfallino.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing hatred Why Tom Friedman Is the Ayn Rand of Our Times http://farfallino.alternet.org/media/why-tom-friedman-new-ayn-rand-our-dark-digital-future <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Friedman is the dark prophet of unregulated marketplaces for every aspect of human activity. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-07-29_at_1.43.20_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">If Thomas Friedman didn't exist, America's high-tech entrepreneurs would have had to invent him.  Come to think of it, maybe they did. The dark science-fiction vision he celebrates serves them well, at pretty much everyone else's expense.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman's vision is worth studying, if only because it reflects the distorted perspective of some very wealthy and influential people. In their world the problems of the many are as easily fixed as a line of code, with no sacrifice required of them or their fellow billionaires.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Case in point: 15 or 20 million Americans seeking full-time employment? To Thomas Friedman, that's a <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">branding </i>problem.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><strong style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Ayn Rand with a human face ...</strong></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman occupies a unique place in the pundit ecosystem. From his perch at the New York <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Times, </i>he idealizes the unregulated, winner-take-all economy of the Internet and while overlooking human, real-world concerns. His misplaced faith in a digitized "free" market reflects the solipsistic libertarianism of a technological <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">über-</i>class which stares into the rich diversity of human experience and sees only its own reflection staring back.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman is a closet Ayn Rand in many ways, but he gives Rand's ugly and exploitative philosophy a pseudo-intellectual, liberal-friendly feel-good gloss.  He turns her harsh industrial metal music into melodious easy listening: John Galt meets John Denver. That make him very useful to those who would dismantle the engines of real economic growth, the ones which create jobs while protecting life and limb.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman's column in this weekend's New York <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Times</i> is, characteristically, a Panglossian panegyric to online technology as the salve for all economic problems. In it he paints the picture of a global dystopia where decent jobs are scarce, educational advancement is unattainable, and people must sacrifice their homes, their possessions, and their personal lives to serve and amuse complete strangers.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">He can hardly wait.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><b style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;"><em style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Mi casa es su casa</em> ...</b></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">The framing device for Friedman's vision is the tale of two twenty-somethings who, like so many Friedman protagonists, built an Internet company. Friedman's column is called "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/opinion/sunday/friedman-welcome-to-the-sharing-economy.html?pagewanted=all" style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 136, 195); outline: 0px; text-decoration: none; cursor: pointer;">The Sharing Economy</a>," and it celebrates the creators of an online platform called "Airbnb" which lets people rent out their homes to strangers.  Online marketplaces like Airbnb are very interesting economic phenomena. They can be useful and even transformative. But they can also be dangerous, unsafe, and overhyped.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Enter Thomas Friedman.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Digital libertarians like Jeff Bezos of Amazon see these digital marketplaces as the electronic realization of a free market fantasy. They promote platforms like Bezos' "Mechanical Turk" system of online job sharing, unconcerned about their ability to accelerate the destruction of decent wages and secure jobs. (They're also blissfully unaware of the embarrassing contradiction between their own libertarianism and the fortunes they've earned from government-created technologies like the Internet.)</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman seems to share a Bezos-like vision of unregulated marketplaces for every aspect of  human activity. He waxes ecstatic about Airbnb, which he sees as both a practical solution and a broader model for a future economy. Friedman thinks that renting out your private space, your personal time, and your possessions will soon become the only way to make ends meet - that is, unless you possess extraordinary skills, which could land you a mediocre job at best.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">And he thinks that's just fine.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><b style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Decoding Friedman</b></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Consider this passage from Friedman's column:</p><blockquote style="list-style: none; margin: 15px 0px; padding: 15px; border: 1px solid rgb(204, 204, 204); font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; background-color: rgb(240, 240, 240); color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">"In a world where, as I've argued, <em style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">average is over</em> -- the skills required for any good job keep rising -- a lot of people who might not be able to acquire those skills can still earn a good living now by building their own branded reputations, whether it is to rent their kids' rooms, their cars or their power tools."</blockquote><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">This paragraph reads like a Zen koan pieced together from cast-away fragments of motivational sales speeches. We're left to infer the meaning of its more obscure phrases from their context, the same way World War II codebreakers cracked particularly difficult passages in enemy telexes. So let's try to tease out its meaning, phrase by phrase:</span></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"> </p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">"In a world where, as I've argued, <em style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">average is over</em> ..." (Emphasis from the original.)</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">"Average is over"?  Averaging is a mathematical function, inextricably woven into the fabric of reality as we understand it. How can it be <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">over?</i> It's like saying that subtraction is over, or means and medians are null and void.  (Watch yourself, standard deviation. Thomas Friedman has his eye on you.)</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">What's he really saying here? The "as I've argued" offers one clue to motivation, if not meaning: Anything self-referential from this author - and that's a lot - is a signal that he's floating another potential "The World Is Flat" book title.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">But what's he <em style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">saying</em>?  Our context-driven codebreaking takes us to the next phrase:</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">"... the skills required for any good job keep rising ..."</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Ah, I see. "Average is over" is connected to job skills. Friedman apparently means that you can't get a good job anymore if your skill level is only average.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Why didn't he just <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">say </i>so?</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><b style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">20 Million Startups</b></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">What are the implications of a world in which you must be above average to get "any good job"?  When Garrison Keillor described Lake Woebegon as a place where "all the children are above average," it was a joke. But Friedman's not joking. He's describing a world in which ordinary people are excluded from decent employment - and he's doing it without expressing regret or demanding change.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">To be fair, Friedman is an advocate for education - in his own way. But his education arguments, like his economic ones, focus on the online, the gimmicky, and the jargon-laden.  Friedman's world doesn't seem to include manufacturing jobs, or construction jobs, or good government jobs. He envisions a workforce made up almost exclusively of "lateral thinkers" and "integration" engineers. Students should be trained to "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/opinion/sunday/friedman-need-a-job-invent-it.html" style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 136, 195); outline: 0px; text-decoration: none; cursor: pointer;">invent</a>" their jobs, says Friedman, who claims that self-invented work will be the best source of future employment.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Based on the number of people currently seeking full-time employment in the US alone, 15 or 20 million people need to "invent" their jobs pretty quickly. That's a lot of Internet start-ups, along with a whole boatload of "lateral thinking."</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman's unrealistic view of the labor force, shared by many tech entrepreneurs, is one in which the middle class is as <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">passé </i>as a Commodore 64.  How can formerly middle-class Americans survive in the world they envision?</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><b style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Average White Brand</b></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">According to Thomas Friedman, tens of millions of un- and under-employed Americans can "earn a good living online by building their own branded reputations." (That's right: He went there. He said "branded reputation.") Using websites like Airbnb, Friedman suggests, they can rent out "their kids' rooms, their cars or their power tools."</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman seems unaware that millions of Americans don't <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">have</i> kids' rooms. (Lots of people don't have cars or power tools, either.) He might be astonished to learn that even in New York City, where he is professionally based, nearly half the population is considered either "poor" or "near poor." Those who live in ghettoes or other concentrations of minority poverty don't seem to exist for him.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Airbnb was co-invented by a kid who needed rent money after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. But there are families that can't afford to send their kids to the Rhode Island School of Design. And not everybody can move to San Francisco, where Friedman's plucky young heroes conducted the business transaction which led to the creation of Airbnb.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">"Three people stayed with us," said co-founder Brian Chesky, "and we charged them $80 a night. We also made breakfast for them and became their local guides."</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">San Francisco's one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the country. It doesn't seem to have occurred to Friedman that not everybody lives in such a desirable location - or that some of us would rather not give up a large chunk of our personal space to strangers while serving as their personal cooks and chauffeurs. What's next? Hiring ourselves out to millionaires as "faithful family retainers," antebellum-style ?</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">As I read this column my mind kept wandering to the recent Bill Moyers program about Milwaukee, "<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/two-american-families/" style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 136, 195); outline: 0px; text-decoration: none; cursor: pointer;">Two American Families</a>," and to a recent visit to my equally hard-hit home town of Utica, New York. Trust us, Mr. Friedman: There won't be a lot of "Airbnb" tourists looking to rent beds or cars in Milwaukee or Utica.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><b style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">hellonearth.com</b></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Friedman seems blithely unaware of the role of regulation in keeping us safe. Do we really want to rent cars from strangers without knowing whether they've been properly maintained? A "branded reputation" is fine until the brakes give out on a steep incline. And power tools?  One broken chain-saw blade and you could wind up looking like a bit player in a Tobe Hooper movie.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">But safety, important as it is, barely scratches the surface of the problem.  Friedman's overall vision, his conception of a "new economy," is what's truly terrifying.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Any rational person who has glimpsed Friedman's dystopian future - which he has pretty accurately envisioned, based on current trends - would urgently begin seeking out alternatives and solutions. They'd want to prevent our economy from becoming an electronic marketplace where the needy and desperate peddle their time, space and possessions to the well-to-do in a desperate bid for survival.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">They certainly wouldn't celebrate this sci-fi dystopia, as Friedman does.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;"><strong style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Mirror, mirror ...</strong></p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">There <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">are</i> alternatives we can pursue collectively: An aggressive government program of job creation. A return to the days of social mobility. An end to the gross concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. And, above all, affordable education for all so that we can restore the American dream of self-advancement.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Instead Friedman glorifies globalization and the destruction of good jobs. He's indifferent to the loss of social mobility and infatuated with mediocre or at best mildly clever web enterprises. Friedman is the praise singer of Palo Alto, the <i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">griot</i> of Los Gatos, and he's never met a Internet billionaire he didn't like.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">Thomas Friedman is the perfect mirror for the undeserved self-infatuation which has infected our corporate, media, and political class. He's the chief fabulist of the detached elite, the unfettered Id of the global aristocracy, the Horatio Alger of self-deluded, self-serving, self-promoting techno-hucksterism.</p><p style="list-style: none; margin: 0px 0px 14px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 21px;">But give the man his due: When it comes to "building your brand reputation," Friedman's a master of the art. It helps to have the perfect platform, of course. As soon as the New York<i style="list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px;">Times</i> is ready to hire 20 million more columnists, our employment problems will be over.</p> Mon, 29 Jul 2013 10:36:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 875472 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Media Economy Media tom friedman 5 Powerful Men Who Were Catastrophically Wrong About the Economy—But Reaped Rewards Anyway http://farfallino.alternet.org/economy/5-powerful-men-who-were-catastrophically-wrong-about-economy-reaped-rewards-anyway <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If recent history is any example, moral probity and clear-headed analysis are obstacles to advancement in the economics field.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/topstories_summers.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The boards are lighting up with consternation at the notion that Lawrence Summers might be rewarded for his vital role in triggering the 2008 financial crisis by being given the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve. Summers is reportedly lobbying hard for the job, along with many of his powerful Washington friends. (He has a lot of those.) There have been no denials from the White House, which may be treating these stories as a trial balloon—and a test of our national economic amnesia.</p><p>Larry Summers at the Fed? It sounds like madness—and it is. Summers epitomizes the old, misguided model of the economist as Washington power player and Wall Street money maker, ever willing to retrofit theories, assumptions and models to benefit those they serve. </p><p>This behavior doesn’t even have to be deliberate and cynical. Robert Johnson of the <a href="http://ineteconomics.org/" target="_blank">Institute for New Economic Thinking</a>, a group which is dedicated to creating new and more effective economic paradigms, told AlterNet he believes economists in this mold internalize their beliefs and are sincere when they express them.</p><p>Cynical or not—and there are probably plenty of people in both camps—the economics field is filled with people whose erroneous thinking and conflicts of interest have been rewarded with ascendancy to ever-higher positions. In fact, if recent history is any example, moral probity and clear-headed analysis are obstacles to advancement.</p><p>Sound harsh? Here are five examples of financial forecasting failure as a career-enhancing technique.</p><p><strong>1. Lawrence Summers.</strong>Economist <a href="http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&amp;-columns/op-eds-&amp;-columns/the-return-of-larry-summers" target="_blank">Dean Baker </a>has the lowdown on Summers. Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary is well-known in economic circles for such accomplishments as his brutal hectoring of Brooksley Born over her prophetic warnings about mortgages, and his open mockery of IMF chief economist  Raghuram Rajan financial reform as a “Luddite” because Rajan was—oh, what’s that word again?—oh, yes: correct. </p><p>That story is instructive. At a 2005 conference, Rajan dared to <a href="http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/10/corruption_economics" target="_blank">question</a> the “financial innovation” which Summers and his crowd had both celebrated and made possible under Bill Clinton. Rajan suggested that the proliferation of risky instruments like mortgage-backed securities, together with the perverse incentives built into banker bonuses, could lead to a “full-blown financial crisis” and a “catastrophic meltdown.”</p><p>In response, Summers stood up in the audience and launched a tirade against Rajan. Summers argued strongly against increased regulation, claiming it would decrease Wall Street’s “productivity.</p><p>Rajan, was absolutely right, as we now know, while Summers was wrong. And he wasn’t just wrong as in “he made a bad call” wrong. He was wrong as in “He fought aggressively to deregulate Wall Street, ran roughshod over anyone who raised legitimate concerns, bullied anyone who tried to prevent the tragic events of 2008, took big fees from banking firms, and was nastily and abusively wrong, over and over and over.”</p><p>Larry Summers was that kind of wrong. Now he’s seriously being discussed as head of the Federal Reserve. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this country seems to have completely lost its mind. </p><p>In lobbying for this job, Summers and his allies are trying to elbow out the highly qualified Janet Yellen for the position. She has a much better track record, and would be the first woman to lead the Fed.</p><p>Sure, Summers has said the right things about job creation lately. Now we know why: he’s angling for a new gig. But he’s still the wrong person or the job. He’s demonstrated a propensity for spectacularly aggressive erroneousness. He’s made millions from the bankers he’d supposedly be regulating. (As the <em>Washington Post</em> reported in 2009, in a single year Summers made $5.2 million in fees from a hedge fund and $2.7 in Wall Street speaking fees.) And, as Baker points out, he’d be displacing a highly talented woman who would be perfect for the job.</p><p><strong>2. Tim Geithner.</strong>We all remember Geithner’s tenure as Treasury Secretary. He ignored repeated warnings about unemployment, and as a result he presided over the longest and deepest jobs depression in many decades. His stewardship of the TARP bailout program was so lax that, as the US Inspector General <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/tarp-pay-czar-executive-pay_n_2569328.html" target="_blank">reported</a>, bankers were allowed to receive bonuses so large they were apparently illegal.</p><p>And who could forget his lordly pronouncements of Wall Street innocence, even as his own staff was hurriedly cutting deals to immunize bankers from criminal prosecution for their widespread fraud?</p><p>The long-term unemployed and impoverished Americans, whose numbers remain at record highs after four years of Secretary Geithner, need no help remembering his failure to revive the economy while in a position of power. Nor do the homeowners who were cruelly manipulated by fraudulent “extend and pretend” programs, thanks to Geithner’s HAMP program, which allowed banks to “pretend” they would modify a homeowner’s mortgage so they could collect payments for another year or two – that’s the “extend” part – before foreclosing on them anyway.</p><p>That process included numerous examples of bank fraud, both toward homeowners and local authorities, which was committed to permit bank foreclosures. Although that eventually led to a $25 billion fraud settlement, no bankers were indicted – or even lost their jobs—during the Geithner years or since.</p><p>But to understand how economics rewards the mistaken we need to go further back in history, to the time before Geithner became Secretary of the Treasury. Before taking that position, Geithner was head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Since Wall Street was in his region, that made Geithner the second-most important official in the entire Fed. How was his record there?</p><p>For starters, recent reports showed that Geithner was aware of the LIBOR scandal, in which bankers manipulated critical figures in order to rook borrowers such as municipalities, all the way back at the end of 2007. Banks routinely the figures they provided to the agency which uses them to set interbank lending rates, which affects roughly $350 trillion in derivatives. These numbers influence municipal bond rates, among many other things, costing cities as much as <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-09/rigged-libor-hits-states-localities-with-6-billion-muni-credit.html" target="_blank">$6 billion</a>.</p><p>As finance professor Andrew Lo said, “This dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.” And yet when he learned of it, Geither did nothing more than send the agency a letter with some recommendations—a letter which had been written, not by his Fed staff, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/tim-geithner-libor_n_1674552.html" target="_blank">by the banks themselves</a>. There’s no sign he followed up while he was Secretary of the Treasury. He certainly never told the American people about it.</p><p>Geithner’s role at the New York Fed makes his inaction on mortgage fraud especially inexcusable. <a href="http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2013/07/why-did-the-fed-refuse-to-heed-the-appraisers-prosecutors-and-industrys-fraud-warnings.html?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+neweconomicperspectives%2FyMfv+%28New+Economic+Perspectives%29" target="_blank">William K. Black Jr. </a>has documented the overwhelming mass of warnings provided to the Fed, which included:</p><ul><li>A petition signed by 11,000 honest appraisers which warned the Fed that lenders were “blacklisting honest appraisers” and sending business to ones that would give them the inflated valuations they wanted;</li><li>Public warnings from the FBI, back in 2004, that an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud was underway and could create a financial “crisis.” (The cop on the beat was a better economic forecaster than either Summers or Geithner.)</li><li>Statements from state prosecutors warning of fraud.</li></ul><p>Other warnings came from trade groups, borrower representatives and from within the mortgage industry itself. But then, anyone who understands basic finance should have seen that fraud was being lavishly rewarded and honesty was being financially punished.</p><p>Our future Treasury Secretary didn’t see it coming. From a Federal Reserve meeting transcript dated January 2007: “How strong does the economy look outside autos and housing? Pretty strong, it seems. We see no troubling signs of weakness …”</p><p><strong>3.</strong><strong>Alan Simpson;</strong><strong>and 4. Erskine Bowles.</strong>They’re funded by anti-government billionaire Pete Peterson. They were made co-chairs of President Obama’s “Deficit Commission.” And they’re repeatedly, remarkably wrong. They also very right-wing, according to the polls, which consistently show that their proposed government cuts are too extreme for many Republicans and are widely disliked by the public at large. And yet, in the distorted worldview of Washington and the major media, they’re repeatedly presented as “moderate” or “centrist.”</p><p>They’re also presented as economic experts—despite their penchant for wildly inaccurate predictions.</p><p>Alan Simpson is a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Erskine Bowles is a former Clinton White House apparatchik and hedge fund millionaire from Morgan Stanley. Two years ago, in June 2011, they made a <a href="http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/Economy-AlanSimpson-ErskineBowles/2011/06/18/id/400503" target="_blank">bold prediction</a>:  The United States will experience another terrible economic crisis—"the most predictable economic crisis in history"—if people don’t listen to them and radically cut government spending.</p><p>How was this disaster going to happen? It will come, they said, when “the ratings agencies find out we have no plan” to cut spending.</p><p>It’s July 2013. Their two years are up. There was no “crisis.” There’s terrible ongoing hardship, but there’s increasing consensus (even Larry Summers is on board) that the primary source of this continued difficulty is the spending reductions advocated by Bowles and Simpson.</p><p>Of course, the Terrible Two have suffered no career consequences for this or any other failed prediction they have made. They’re still quoted worshipfully in many newspapers, are seen frequently on television, and are treated as if they were people who understood economics.</p><p>This isn’t Bowles’ first rodeo, or his only one. He’s been serving on a lot of corporate boards, where a director’s guidance is instrumental to the success of the firm. Dean Baker co-authored <a href="http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/the-erskine-bowles-stock-index" target="_blank">an analysis of his work </a>in that field, finding that “the Erskine Bowles index considerably underperformed the S&amp;P 500 over this period”:</p><blockquote><p>In boardroom life, unlike real life, there is no penalty for failure. Mr. Bowles was handsomely compensated for his board work, just as he is warmly recognized for the probity which led him to predict that a new and massive debt-caused crisis would shatter our nation by sometime last month.</p></blockquote><p><strong>5. Rick Santelli.</strong>Government officials aren’t the only ones who can get their predictions spectacularly wrong and be rewarded for it. Tea Party hero Rick Santelli, who prognosticates on the economy for CNBC, has shown that economic ineptitude can be privatized.</p><p>Santelli screamed for years (literally, as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/30/cnbcs-rick-santelli-stop_n_629808.html" target="_blank">this clip </a>demonstrates) about government stimulus spending, an anti-recessionary technique that has worked reliably over and over during economic times like these. “Stop spending!” Santelli shrieked.</p><p>Europe “stopped spending”—or at least slashed its spending—and the resulting austerity budgets have caused GDPs to collapse and unemployment to soar all across the continent. The United States did the same thing. The result? Our GDP also took a hit, while our unemployment figures linger somewhere between quasi-depressionary and catastrophic for large swathes of the population.</p><p>And yet Santelli’s visibility actually went up over this period. Why? Because Santelli also went into a hysterical fit on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He was furious at the idea that homeowners, who had been victimized by crooked bankers, might get some help deal with underwater mortgages, while expressing no such outrage about the hundreds of billions in aid given to Wall Street banks; aid that benefited both Santelli and his irate audience of traders. Santelli used the felicitous phrase “Tea Party,” and a movement had a new name.</p><p>We almost wrote “and a movement was born,” but the Tea Party was actually born in corporate boardrooms, and in meetings with Republican party functionaries like Dick Armey. Santelli merely stumbled on a phrase. Despite his cockeyed predictions, his visibility went into overdrive—and a thousand silly hats were born.</p><p>Santelli’s not above a fib or two, if that’s what it takes to hide his poor track record. In another bad Santelli prediction, he said the Fed’s moves in 2009 would be extremely inflationary. They weren’t. Santelli’s response? “I never said it was about inflation,” he claimed recently. But Business Insider reviewed the recording in which Santelli said, quote, “<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/were-pretty-sure-rick-santelli-said-it-was-about-inflation-2013-6" target="_blank">of course it’s about inflation</a>.”</p><p>Whoops. <a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/13/fish-in-a-barrel-rick-santelli-edition/" target="_blank">Professor Krugman</a> bemoaned the inflationistas for what he calls their “stunning lack of menschlichkeit.” That’s a Yiddish way of saying “what a bunch of jerks.”</p><p>Santelli and his mean-spirited friends on that Chicago floor screamed at homeowners, “Losers! Losers! Losers!” They might have been talking about the success rate of predictions made by Santelli and his ilk.</p><p><strong>Conclusion: How to Succeed in Economics by … er, Totally Not Succeeding</strong></p><p>This is, by necessity, only a partial list. Space limitations prevent us from recognizing all those who are qualified for recognition in this category. But honorable mentions go to Alan Greenspan, Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, the editorial board of the<em>Wall Street Journal</em>, the editorial board of the <em>Washington Post</em>, your tipsy uncle at last Thanksgiving dinner, and all the fine folks who worked in risk management on Wall Street without noticing that something was seriously, seriously wrong.</p><p>Some risk managers did notice, and warned their bosses, only to see their careers stall accordingly. This is dedicated to you, the unsung heroes of finance, and to the many economists who continue to make sound predictions, regardless of the price they pay for it.</p><p>But we’re not just here to complain, are we? What must we do to change the culture of the financial and economic professions? That’s a vital and urgent mission, and it’s good to know that people are working on it in brilliant and imaginative ways.  </p><p>So thank you, <a href="http://ineteconomics.org/about" target="_blank">Institute for New Economic Thinking</a>, for your tireless and high-minded work on improving the nature and quality of the economics profession. We hope that more of us can join you on the high road, and soon. After all, criticism of others only offers a starting point. Building new and more effective models is the real and important work of the future.</p> Wed, 24 Jul 2013 07:13:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 873220 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy summers economy Why Are Americans So Passive? http://farfallino.alternet.org/activism/why-are-americans-so-passive <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The rest of the world is rioting in the face of massive inequality and injustice. Have we absorbed the oppressor&#039;s consciousness?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1373577533101-2-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">From the first breaths of life to the last, our lives are being stolen out from under us. From infant care and early education to Social Security and Medicare, the dominant economic ideology is demanding more lifelong sacrifices from the vulnerable to appease the gods of wealth.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Middle-class wages are stagnant. Unemployment is stalled at record levels. College education is leading to debt servitude and job insecurity. Millions of unemployed Americans have essentially been abandoned by their government.  Poverty is soaring. Bankers break the law with impunity, are bailed out, and go on breaking the law, richer than they were before.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">And yet, bizarrely, the only Americans who seem to be seething with anger are the beneficiaries of this economic injustice – the wealthiest and most privileged among us.  But those who are suffering seem strangely passive.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">As long as they stay that way, there will be no movement to repair these injustices. And the more these injustices are allowed to persist, the harder it will be to end them.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Where the hell is the outrage? And how can we <em style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">start</em> some?</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">John and Paul</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/on-the-political-economy-of-permanent-stagnation/" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">Paul Krugman</a> ruminated about inflation-free unemployment the other day, and he was feeling pretty grim. Krugman is frustrated that clear prescriptions for this kind of economy – prescriptions born in John Maynard Keynes’ day – aren’t being followed. What John proposed then, Paul’s proposing now.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">But he’s not optimistic.  “We can probably have high unemployment and stable prices in Europe and America for a very long time,” writes Krugman, “and all the wise heads will insist that it’s all structural, and nothing can be done until the public accepts drastic cuts in the safety net.”</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">One source for Krugman’s pessimism is the extensive political science research showing that “the level of unemployment matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of change in the months leading up to the election.”</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Krugman concludes that “high unemployment could become accepted as the new normal,” and worries that we’ll come to accept “a more or less permanent depression” as the norm – adding that “we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.”</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">Quiet in the streets</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">He’s right. A number of studies have linked political participation with economic conditions, typically with results like those Krugman describes.  But that doesn’t explain why Brazilians took to the streets in such large numbers recently.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">A majority of Brazilians believe that their economy’s improving, according to a recent <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/21/dissatisfaction-in-brazil-despite-positive-views-of-the-economy/" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">Pew survey</a>. 59 percent of Brazilians rate their economy positively and 74 percent say their personal financial situation is good.  By contrast, the same organization’s most recent <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/03/pollings-mixed-message-for-2014-2016/" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">US polling</a> showed that only 46 percent of Americans said they believe the economy’s getting better, while 50 percent think it’s getting worse.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">The polling says that Brazilian political unrest is driven by a divergence in goals and priorities between political leaders and the population, triggered by poor public services, bus fare increases, and the cost of hosting the World Cup.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">A similar divergence of priorities exists in this country.  Washington’s been focused on deficit reduction, while the public wants more job creation and economic growth.  But Americans are quiescent.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">US voter turnout is extremely low when compared to other developed nations, even though we rank among the highest in terms of income inequality. And other forms of political expression are also under-used. The Occupy movement was originally very popular, for example, but most people were easily persuaded to abandon it and return to a state of quiet desperation.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">Why?</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Wealth inequity and other economic injustices are the product of deliberate policy choices – in taxation, Social Security, health care, financial regulation, education, and a number of other policy areas.  So why aren’t Americans taking action?</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">The “change” theories Krugman mentioned don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, it’s not true that the lives of the majority are frozen in an ugly stasis. Conditions continue to become objectively worse for the great majority of Americans. But these ongoing changes – in actual wages, in employment, in social mobility and wealth equity – have received very little media attention or meaningful political debate.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">It’s not that things aren’t changing. It’s that people don’t <em style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">know</em> they’re changing. And without that knowledge the public becomes a canary in a coalmine, only aware of its declining oxygen supply when it keels over and dies.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">It’s an almost classic state of alienation, in which people may be acutely aware of their own increasing difficulties (although sometimes they can be numb to that as well) but experience them in a state of isolation. That turns the anger inward, leading to crippling reactions like guilt and despair. And repeated individual failures – failures made increasingly likely in a skewed system – lead to a sense of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">learned helplessness.</a></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">The Radical Rich</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Interestingly, the “change = political pressure” theory helps explain the rage of the “<a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20120919/the-radical-rich-moving-from-romney-to-re-occupy" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">radical rich</a>” who – despite their almost unprecedented lives of wealth and privilege – are articulating an anger which seems at first to be inexplicable. But they, unlike the vast majority, are experiencing perceptible (if minor) changes.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">No current policy proposals would substantially affect their historic levels of wealth and privilege. But some Democratic policies would slightly discommode the ultra-wealthy, and conservative forces have been shrewd enough to trumpet that fact far and wide in a tone of barely suppressed hysteria.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">The wealthy have already seen a cultural change, as the Occupy movement led to previously-unheard public criticisms of their riches and political influence. That helps explain today’s seemingly paradoxical political situation, in which the beleaguered majority accepts the injustices heaped upon them while coddled and ultra-wealthy Americans erupt in fury.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">The Alienators</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">The media has failed to tell the story of our broken economy. The two-party system is failing, too, as corporate forces complete their corruption of the GOP and seize an ever-increasing chunk of the Democratic Party.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">That’s one of the reasons why voter turnout may not be the best indicator of political awareness. Even pronounced financial hardship won’t result in increased turnout or participation in electoral politics if neither party is clearly articulating the majority’s needs or actively fighting for its interests.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Many politicians and pundits have also embraced the “structural unemployment” argument which says people have the wrong skills for the economy of today and <span class="aBn" data-term="goog_739659512" style="border-bottom-width: 1px; border-bottom-style: dashed; border-bottom-color: rgb(204, 204, 204); position: relative; top: -2px; z-index: 0; " tabindex="0"><span class="aQJ" style="position: relative; top: 2px; z-index: -1; ">tomorrow</span></span>. But they told us the same in the 1960s, the 1970s …</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">In fact, they’ve said it for the last fifty years.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">And yet technology jobs were <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">down</i> in last week’s jobs report. “Structural unemployment” is another way of telling you it’s your fault if you don’t have a job. It’s a lie.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">The Exploiters Within</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Even worse, decades of “Pimp My Ride”/”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” acculturation have idealized the wealthy and have left the majority with a subliminal message: If you’re struggling economically, it’s <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">your</i> fault.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">The leftist Brazilian educator Paolo Freire spoke of “internalizing the oppressor consciousness”: internalizing the values of those who colonize, rule, and exploit you, accepting their distorted, Matrix-like view of the world as an objective reality.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">This can lead to agony, as well as continued exploitation. When I first began writing about illegal foreclosures in 2009 and 2010 – before bank fraud became common knowledge – I began receiving dozens of emails from bank victims saying, in essence, “I thought it was my fault” and “I thought I was the only one.” Some of them had contemplated suicide, which is the tragic end point of an “oppressor consciousness” within.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">(I published some of those emails, with permission, in a piece called “<a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/institute/blog-entry/2010125014/letters-foreclosure-hell" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">Letters From Foreclosure Hell</a>.”)</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">Books and films like <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">The Pursuit of Happyness</i> have delivered the message that anyone who’s struggling economically hasn’t been brave enough, bold enough, or smart enough, while movements like the Tea Party have mocked underwater homeowners and other victims of Wall Street fraud and predation.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">(That movement was born in a “spontaneous” demonstration at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange led by financial snake-oil salesman Rick Santelli, in which pampered and taxpayer-rescued traders mocked Wall Street homeowner/victims as “Losers! Losers!”)</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">The last two Democratic Presidents have tried to have it both ways, exalting, deregulating, and pampering the wealthy while speaking the language of justice. That has weakened the Democratic “brand” and undermined public confidence in government, while failing to resolve our underlying economic problems. The rhetoric of “consensus” and “compromise” contributed to the decades-long rise in inequality.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">As Paolo Friere said:  “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; "><b style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">Action Plan</b></p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">So what do we <em style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">do</em>?</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">1. <span style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: underline; ">Expand our avenues of political expression</span>: First, we need to remind ourselves that electoral politics is not the only productive avenue for political activism –that we need strong and independent voices and movements.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">2. <span style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: underline; ">Refuse to let politicians use social issues to exploit us economically</span>: We also need to reject the exploitation and manipulation of progressive values by corporatist politicians who use social issues like gay marriage and reproductive rights exactly the way Republicans do – to <a href="http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/are-corporations-trying-distract-us-social-issues-while-they" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">manipulate their own base</a> into ignoring their own economic interests. Politicians who don’t take a stand on economic issues should be rejected, up and down the ticket.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">3. <span style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: underline; ">Explain what is changing – and contrast what <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">is</i> with what <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">should be</i></span>:  We need to do a better job of explaining what’s happening, so that we can make people aware of the harmful changes taking place all around them.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">And it’s not just about “change”: It’s also about <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">contrast –</i> between economic conditions as they are, and conditions as they should be and could be, if we can find the political will.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">4. <span style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: underline; ">Expand the vocabulary of the possible</span>: The “learned helplessness” outlook says “the rich and powerful always win; we don’t stand a chance.” History tells us otherwise.  From the American Revolution to the breaking up of the railroads, from Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting to FDR’s New Deal, from Ike’s Social Security and labor union expansion to LBJ’s Great Society victories, we need to remind ourselves of what we’ve accomplished under similar conditions.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">5. <span style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: underline; ">Tell stories</span>: And we need to tell stories – <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; ">human</i> stories. That’s why <span class="aBn" data-term="goog_739659513" style="border-bottom-width: 1px; border-bottom-style: dashed; border-bottom-color: rgb(204, 204, 204); position: relative; top: -2px; z-index: 0; " tabindex="0"><span class="aQJ" style="position: relative; top: 2px; z-index: -1; ">Tuesday</span></span> night’s Bill Moyers special on PBS is so important. “<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/two-american-families/" style="color: rgb(0, 85, 136); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; line-height: inherit; text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">Two American Families</a>” tells the story of a white family and an African-American family in Milwaukee over two decades. Their stories bring home, in a personal way, the agony that has accompanied the destruction of middle-class jobs – a destruction that only happened because politicians made conscious policy decisions.</p><p style="color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: inherit; background-color: transparent; margin: 0px 0px 13px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; ">To explain, to provoke, to inspire, to tell stories is to begin the process of political change. As Paolo Friere said, “To speak a true word is to transform the</p> Fri, 12 Jul 2013 11:01:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 868130 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Activism Activism oppressor Are Corporations Trying to Distract Us with Social Issues While They Take Control of Our Economy? http://farfallino.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/are-corporations-trying-distract-us-social-issues-while-they <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Politicians are winning liberal hearts and minds on social issues, while embracing a corporate political agenda.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1372893290883-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>I was having breakfast with a friend in North Carolina the day after that state voted against gay marriage, and after Barack Obama said on television that he now supported it. My friend knew I had supported the cause for a long time, so he asked me what I thought of Obama’s comments. I said "I think he’ll be tacking to the right economically once he’s re-elected."</p><p>I was right, but not because I have any special predictive gifts. History had provided the background for Obama’s changed views while Republicans had pioneered his tactics.</p><p>One key to Obama’s “evolution” can be found in Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, <em>What’s the Matter with Kansas?</em> In it, a frustrated Frank argued that conservatives had persuaded heartland Americans to vote against their own interests by using social issues like gay marriage and abortion. His arguments resonated with a lot of liberals. Many of my friends expressed anger, frustration, and even contempt for the way “values voters” (as Republicans called them) repeatedly undermined their own economic needs in the voting booth.</p><p>Is it their turn? Politicians are winning liberal hearts and minds on social issues, while at the same time embracing a corporate political agenda based on ever-greater wealth for the few and increasing austerity for the many.</p><p>Let’s be clear: The term “social issues” is not used dismissively. These are human rights issues which speak to our core values of personal freedom and social justice. But are these just causes being exploited by corporate-backed politicians?</p><p>The answer seems to be yes.</p><p>Politicians in the “liberal Kansas” school are increasingly outspoken on issues like reproductive choice and gay marriage, while at the same time continuing to promote their corporate economic agenda. Many, if not most, of them are so-called "centrist" Democrats from the Bill Clinton wing of the party. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican, is also a prominent member of the “personally liberal, economically conservative” clique. </p><p>They’re not alone. I’ve known more than a few corporate leaders and Wall Street executives, and most of them were quite liberal on social issues too. It makes sense, when you think about it. When your goal is money, you’re not likely to care what people do with their bodies – as long you get their wallets.</p><p>That’s the “liberal Kansas” strategy in a nutshell.</p><p>Frank considered the “Kansas” phenomenon a liberal political failure, and he was certainly right about that. He also <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1551/" target="_blank">derided</a> the centrist Democrats as “criminally stupid” for “pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues.”</p><p>That’s also correct, if the Democratic Party ever wants to win consistently and build a working majority. But it’s beginning to look as if, at least where its base is concerned, the Democratic “Kansas” strategy is working. It seems that most of party’s rank and file is happy to let this rightward economic shift continue, as long as its leaders say the right things about social issues. </p><p>Democrats campaigned on populist themes in 2012 campaign. But as soon as the election was over the party’s leaders returned to what Frank described in 2004 as “endless concessions on economic issues, on welfare, NAFTA, Social Security, labor law, privatization, deregulation, and the rest of it.”</p><p>Since his re-election, Barack Obama has proposed to cut Social Security, echoed the deficit hysteria of the right, continued to negotiate NAFTA-like trade deals in secret (hidden from Congress and the public but <a href="http://www.citizen.org/TPP" target="_blank">available to 600 “corporate advisors”</a>), and continued to privatize the military/national security state. (He has also pursued the most aggressive anti-whistleblower presidential campaign in American history.)</p><p>And yet 85 percent of registered Democrats either “somewhat approve” or “strongly approve” of Obama’s performance, according to a recent <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/06/26/National-Politics/Polling/question_11157.xml?uuid=TW1Hpt5OEeK8hIBJIksz4Q" target="_blank">Washington Post/ABC News poll.</a> While the level and intensity of Democratic support has dipped somewhat, these figures are still surprisingly robust for a President who moved to cut Democrats’ signature achievement – Social Security – and whose other economic policies are so out of line with his party’s base.</p><p>What’s more, both the party’s leadership and its rank and file appear enthusiastic about the potential presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who as First Lady was part of the administration that cut welfare benefits (in a destructive and ultimately <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20120309/Lets_Get_This_Straight_Welfare_Reform_Was_A_Failure" target="_blank">discredited</a> “reform” process) and deregulated Wall Street in a way that directly contributed to the 2008 crisis. Since the talk about a 2016 run began, she has made no effort to distance herself from those policies or to stake out a different position on any significant economic issues.</p><p>How do right-leaning Democrats like Obama and the Clintons maintain the loyalty of the Democratic and liberal base?</p><p>They seem to have learned a thing or two from Republicans. While their social stance lacks the “anti-elite” aura of their conservative counterparts – something which might force them closer to genuinely populist positions – they have certainly learned how to use issues like gay marriage and reproductive rights to win liberal hearts and minds, while at the same time pursuing conservative economic policies.</p><p>Gay marriage had been somewhat problematic for these Dems. The political calculus of the last two decades, at least as they understood it, demanded that they distance themselves from the issue. It would have taken courage for a politician to support the idea 15, or 10, or even five years ago. </p><p>That courage was nowhere to be found in this crowd. Barack Obama said <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/05/09/11623172-the-evolution-of-obamas-stance-on-gay-marriage?lite" target="_blank">in 2004</a> that “I believe marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman,” while spokesman Robert Gibbs reaffirmed that “Barack Obama is opposed to gay marriage.” President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and advised John Kerry to outflank Republicans from the right by endorsing anti-gay marriage amendments in the 2004 election campaign. (Clinton recently denied that story, but the political consultant who first reported it <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/27/clinton-s-take-on-gay-marriage-today.html" target="_blank">reaffirmed</a> its accuracy. Newsweek also reported the story at the time.)</p><p>The 2008 financial crisis should have resulted in the final discrediting of the Clinton-era, DLC and “Third Way”-style politics. The deregulation bill which Clinton signed unleashed Wall Street greed, giving it the freedom to accelerate the destruction of the middle class – and ultimately, to nearly destroy the global economy.</p><p>This pseudo-centrist school calls itself “moderate” and “centrist,” despite the fact that poll after poll has affirmed that its economic policies – on Social Security, Medicare, Wall Street regulation, and taxing corporations and the wealthy – are far to the right of public opinion. In many cases polls show that their positions are to the right of Republican voter opinion.</p><p>But the corporate Dems caught two lucky breaks. First, in a sign of society’s often-underestimated capacity for change, public opinion shifted strongly toward support for gay marriage. Most Republicans are unwilling or unable to do to capitalize on that shift, since that would alienate their base. In a second lucky break, the Republicans have been increasingly extreme and barbaric in their stated positions about reproductive rights, women’s health, and women’s rights overall. (That is a shift. Few people remember that Republican President Gerald Ford supported the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, for example.)</p><p>These two developments gave corporate-friendly Democrats the opening they needed to protect their unpopular economic positions … by changing the subject. In Obama’s case, all it took was an eloquent statement of affirmation to give him the aura of a hero on the subject of gay rights. (Obama didn’t propose to take any specific actions when he announced his “evolution.”)</p><p>The same strategy was used by Michael Bloomberg – along with lots and lots of money – to win and retain the mayoralty in heavily Democratic New York City. Bloomberg’s liberalism on social issues repeatedly won over voters who otherwise might have rejected his economic platform. He was even seriously discussed as a third-party presidential candidate, despite holding fiscal views that are far to the right of the general electorate.</p><p>Any discussion of “social-issues corporatists” must also get into another very sensitive territory: identity politics. Yes, it’s an enormous social breakthrough when offices once restricted to white males are occupied by women, people of color, those of different (or no) faith, and people of all sexual orientations. No argument there.</p><p>But the “reverse Kansas” crowd is quite capable, consciously or otherwise, of using identity politics to push its pro-corporate agenda.  We saw that in the exhilarating moment when Barack Obama won the presidency, only to tack to the right once in office; when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for the vice-presidency; and in the many congressional and state offices now held by female, minority, gay, Muslim, atheist and other leaders.</p><p>But identity politics, like social issues, can be exploited to push a Wall Street agenda. There may be no better example of that than the New Jersey senatorial candidacy of Cory Booker, who is both African American and gay – and who is a former Wall Streeter who stridently defends even that community’s worst excesses. If Booker replaces Robert Menendez, as appears likely, he is far less likely to defend the public’s economic rights against corporate pillagers.</p><p>It didn’t have to be that way. There are many committed leaders who fit Cory Booker’s profile and have much more reasonable economic views.</p><p>There are also many talented women who could run for president. (Elizabeth Warren comes immediately to mind.) But today Hillary Clinton’s 2016 nomination is considered a sure thing, should she choose to run, despite the fact that she has not stated her positions on key economic issues and is closely associated with the economically disastrous actions of the Clinton administration. </p><p>Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Hillary Clinton: Each of these politicians has expressed pro-corporate economic views that are both unpopular politically and deeply inconsistent with core progressive beliefs.</p><p>It’s time to ask the question: What’s the matter with Liberal Land? Why do they continue to support politicians who frequently work against their economic self-interest? Are social issues being used on liberals the same way they’ve been used on Thomas Frank’s Kansas voters? What Frank wrote about conservatism in 2004 could easily be said about mainstream Democratic liberalism today: “The movement's basic premise is that culture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern—that Values Matter Most …”</p><p>But economics is a matter of values, too –  values like fairness, equal opportunity, equal justice before the law, and the preservation of our social contract. And there shouldn’t be a gap between “social” issues and “economic” ones, since they both affect all of us. Women suffer disproportionately during times of economic hardship. Wealth inequity strikes minorities especially hard. People continue to suffer from rising poverty and the death of the middle class, regardless of their sexual orientation.</p><p>And when one person is not free, personally or economically, we are all less free. </p><p>It was a beautiful moment for gay Americans when the President of the United States expressed support for the right to marry. It was an affirmation of their right to exist as full citizens of this country. It’s good that, whatever their motives, these corporate-friendly politicians have “evolved.” Now it’s time for their supporters to do the same, and demand leaders who represent them in every dimension of public policy.</p><p>None of this is meant to condemn liberals who support corporate-backed politicians. We all want safety and security, and that includes the sense that we have leaders we can trust. But there’s a difference between being led and being had. It’s time to demand leaders who understand that economic justice is an essential part of our national fabric, and that you can’t achieve full equality without it.</p> Thu, 04 Jul 2013 08:01:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, AlterNet 864540 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace politicians social issues gay marriage 9 Ways the Right’s Ayn Randian Experiment Screws Over the Young http://farfallino.alternet.org/ayn-rand-0 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The decades-long assault on our core social values is on the verge of consuming its first complete generation of Americans.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-06-17_at_11.13.37_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><p>Conservatives keep claiming liberals want a “cradle-to-grave nanny state.” That rhetoric has distracted us from the real social re-engineering taking place all around us. The right, along with its “centrist” collaborators, is transforming our nation into a bloodless and soulless Randian State.</p><p>Their decades-long assault on our core social values is on the verge of consuming its first complete generation of Americans. Born at the dawn of the Reagan era, Millennials were the first to be fully subjected to this all-out attack on the idea that we take care of each other in this country, and they’ll pay for it from the cradle to the grave.</p><p>Some of us are the parents of Millennials. Who’ll fight with them, and for them?</p><p>The Psychosis</p><p>The Simpsons made a running joke out of Springfield’s “<a href="http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/Ayn_Rand_School_for_Tots" target="_blank">Ayn Rand School for Tots</a>,” where toddlers fend for themselves in playrooms whose signs say things like “Helping is Futile.” That’s very funny. What is happening to our country isn’t.</p><p>A successful social contract has bound us together since the FDR era. The Randian State is an effort to dismantle it, replacing our nation’s web of mutual trust and support with a lifelong helplessness and dependence on the whims and generosity of corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals.</p><p>The Randian State is built in the morally depraved mold of right-wing über-heroine Rand, who reviled the less fortunate – and even those who tried to help them – as “<a href="http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/129091-the-man-who-attempts-to-live-for-others-is-a" target="_blank">parasites</a>,” while at the same time idolizing sociopathic killers.</p><p>That last statement isn’t rhetoric. It’s reporting. “He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman,” Rand wrote admiringly of child murderer and dismemberer William Edward Hickman. “He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”</p><p>As <a href="http://exiledonline.com/paul-ryans-guru-ayn-rand-worshipped-a-serial-killer-who-kidnapped-and-dismembered-little-girls/" target="_blank">Mark Ames</a> points out, this echoes Rand’s description of her hero in The Fountainhead:  “He was born without the ability to consider others.”</p><p>Hickman’s actions were certainly not those of a “nanny.” But, while most conservatives undoubtedly disapprove of his deeds, the glorification of sociopathic selfishness represents the mentality with which the Administration is perpetually seeking “compromise.” It has infected everything from the Beltway’s “bipartisan” consensus to the content of our national media.</p><p>Where’s Julia?</p><p>Conservatives went into rhetorical overdrive last year after the Obama campaign released an “infographic” ad called “The Life of Julia,” depicting ways Obama’s policies help women throughout their lives.</p><p>A typical reaction came from self-declared moralizer, former Reagan official, and <a href="http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/474.html" target="_blank">chronic excessive gambler</a> William Bennett. Bennett <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/opinion/bennett-obama-campaign" target="_blank">intoned</a> that “Julia’s entire life is defined by her interactions with the state … Notably absent in her story is any relationship with a husband, family, church or community … Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship.”</p><p>That’s deceptive, of course. The presentation focused on government because it wasabout government.  The Obama campaign wasn’t proposing to marry her or drive her to church. But reason rarely intrudes on such arguments. The Romney campaign quickly prepared a counter-slide show and the “socialist” debate was on.</p><p>Obama won.</p><p>Curiously, “Julia’s” story seems to have disappeared from the <a href="http://barackobama.com/" target="_blank">BarackObama.Com</a> and Organizing For Action websites now that victory’s been achieved. Old links to it are dead, and attempts to click on this <a href="http://www.barackobama.com/truth-team/entry/the-life-of-julia/" target="_blank">introduction</a> only lead back to the site’s main page.</p><p>Anti-Social.</p><p>Bennett’s phrasing was drawn from conservative avatar <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/prof_margaretthatcher.html" target="_blank">Margaret Thatcher</a>. Thatcher represented a radically un-American vision of life which lacks either our sense of community or our bonds of mutual trust, and which denies even the existence of society itself.</p><p>“Who is society?” demanded Thatcher. “There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families …”</p><p>Conservatives went searching for evidence that centrist Obama was really pushing cradle-to-grave socialism. The only target they could find for their faux outrage was Michelle Obama’s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/15/michele-bachmann-michelle-obama_n_823604.html" target="_blank">campaign</a> to encourage breastfeeding, an embarrassing right-wing misfire which suggests there may be Freudian overtones to their “nanny” outrage.</p><p>Instead of pushing “cradle to grave” statism, the Administration pivoted immediately after the election to government-shrinking Grand Bargains. A “sequester” agreed to by both parties began slashing services on both ends of life. And the Administration’s attempting to end the sequester, not by calling for its straight repeal (as it should), but by offering cuts to Social Security at the later end of that “cradle to grave” span.</p><p>Come to think of it, maybe that’s why “Julia” has disappeared from the Obama website.</p><p>The Manifesto</p><p>The Randian State’s first manifesto may have been the startling document produced by Ronald Reagan’s “blue ribbon” education commission in 1983, which proposed to use schools as factories for more effectively turning Millennials – and every generation that follows – into usable raw material for corporate production.</p><p>The commission approached American education in a self-declared state of crisis, saying it was asked to address “the widespread public perception” – held by whom, exactly? – “that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.”</p><p>The sternly ideological report which resulted was called “<a href="http://datacenter.spps.org/uploads/sotw_a_nation_at_risk_1983.pdf" target="_blank">A Nation At Risk</a>.” Though right-wing in content, it reads like a Soviet proclamation on industrial production. Students are redefined as inputs in a system to maximize American corporate competitiveness, productivity and profits.</p><p>“History is not kind to idlers,” says the report. “We live among determined, well-educated, and strongly motivated competitors. We compete with them for international standing and markets …”</p><p>The rhetoric is hectoring and fierce:</p><p>“(T)he educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”</p><p>The “problem” was stated in terms that were both militaristic – “We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” – and moralistic: “Our Nation’s schools and Colleges … are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve.”</p><p>That was an assault on an idea that had been uncontroversial among Americans of all political persuasions for generations: that education can and should help children learn to participate more effectively in society. The authors had more concrete objectives in mind.  Like Communist commissars plumping next year’s wheat harvest, their goal was productivity, productivity, productivity.</p><p>“Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce,” wrote the Commission.  And by “raw materials,” Millennials, they meant you.</p><p>The rest of the Commission’s report is largely taken up by a) platitudes, and b) statistical studies which soon <a href="http://www.edutopia.org/landmark-education-report-nation-risk" target="_blank">challenged aggressively</a>.  But the Randian State moved on, Millennials firmly in its maw. And while A Nation At Risk only targeted students, it soon had Americans of all ages in its sights.</p><p>Birth School Work Death</p><p>During the Thatcher years a British punk group called The Godfathers put out a song called “Birth School Work Death.” Here are nine ways the Cradle to Grave Randian State is harming Millennials in those four stages of life.</p><p>1. Prenatal Nutrition</p><p>For some the new regime began even before they were born. The Reagan Administration moved to <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/1983/1108/110814.html/(page)/3" target="_blank">cut nutrition funding</a> for 600,000 pregnant women, a particularly hypocritical act for a movement which claims to be concerned about the rights of unborn children.</p><p>2. Early Childhood Nutrition</p><p>The same cuts also lowered food budgets for children in 4.6 million households, eighty-seven percent of which lived below the poverty line.</p><p>3. School lunches</p><p>The National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 both promoted healthy meals for America’s schoolchildren.  Seems benign and even wise – unless you’re a Randian, of course. The Reagan Administration added to cuts in 1980 budget, then passed into infamy when it stated that <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketchup_as_a_vegetable" target="_blank">ketchup and pickle relish</a> could be considered “vegetables” when designing a balanced diet.</p><p>Few, if any, parents adopted this approach at the family dinner table. “Kids, finish your vegetables!” never became “Kids, finish sucking the factory produced, sugar-drenched condiments out of those little folding packets!”<br /><br />4. Cutting education funds.<br /><br />The Reagan Administration’s cuts to the Department of Education, some occurring under Education Secretary William Bennett, eventually totaled $19 billion.</p><p>The right has continued to mount an assault on school funding at every level ever since, from local school boards up to the state and Federal level. They’ve been joined by “centrist” Democrats like Rahm Emanuel in their efforts to demonize teachers and privatize schools.</p><p>5. Making college unaffordable.</p><p>The University of Virginia’s Miller Center conducted a study for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and found that “Since the mid-1980s” – roughly the start of the Millennial Generation -”the costs of higher education in America have steadily shifted from the taxpayer to the student and family.”</p><p>Median family income have risen by 147% since then, while college tuition and fees rose 439%, a tripling of education costs in real dollar terms. The impact has been greatest on lower-income families, sounding a potential death knell for social mobility.</p><p>From the New York Times: “Among the poorest families … the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000.”</p><p>6. Leaving graduates drowning in debt.<br /><br />The misguided ‘privatization’ of Sallie Mae, the government’s student loan enterprise, led to a series of political and financial scandals. (See “<a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/node/44840" target="_blank">Sallie Mae’s Jets</a>.”) It also contributed to an explosion of student loans, many of which went to highly dubious ‘colleges’ which issued high-cost, worthless degrees. Many other students went to more legitimate institutions, but found themselves drowning in debt.</p><p>Now <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130531/99593" target="_blank">7.4 million students</a> are about to see a doubling of their interest rates unless something is done.  <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130508/congress-should-pass-elizabeth-warrens-bill-lowering-student-loan-rates" target="_blank">Elizabeth Warren</a> has proposed given them access to the Fed’s ultra-low rates for banks, while more modest proposals would keep current rates in place.</p><p>The student debt situation for Millennials would be morally unconscionable even if rates remain at current levels.  Anything else is shocking to contemplate.  The UPI <a href="http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/06/15/Alexander-GOP-Obama-agree-on-fixing-student-loan-rates/UPI-83531371323368/" target="_blank">reports today</a> that Sen. Lamar Alexander said the President and Republicans “agree” on what should be done.</p><p>That’s not reassuring.</p><p>7. Massive unemployment.</p><p>There are <a href="http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2013/06/05/65373/americas-10-million-unemployed-youth-spell-danger-for-future-economic-growth/" target="_blank">10 million unemployed young people</a> in the United States. The official youth unemployment rate is 16.2 percent, the adjusted rate (including discouraged workers) is<a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/04/06/number-of-the-week-youth-unemployment-at-22-9/" target="_blank">22.9 percent</a> – not much better than the Eurozone’s – and the anemic ‘jobs recovery’ is even weaker for Millennials.</p><p>The crisis covers everything from high-school-age summer and after-school jobs to employment after graduation.</p><p>Studies show that youth unemployment lowers income for the rest of a person’s life. That means this crisis is urgent as well as massive. Every passing month harms the future of an entire generation. What immediate, major measures are being proposed to address this emergency?</p><p>None.</p><p>8. An increasingly inequitable, wage-stagnating economy.</p><p>When Millennials do find jobs – hopefully – they’ll enter a marketplace and economy plagued by historic levels of wage inequality and stagnation.</p><p>That’s not an accident: It’s policy.Tax rates <a href="http://www.nationalmemo.com/inequality-rising-all-thanks-to-government-policies/" target="_blank">favor inequality</a>.  Right-wing Republicans and “centrist” Democrats have savaged unions, an effective counterweight against growing inequality. And both parties have served the growing financialization of our economy (although the GOP does it with more gusto), making things worse for everybody except Wall Street.</p><p>9. Greater fear and insecurity in old age.</p><p>Now the President has proposed cutting Social Security benefits through the cynical “chained CPI.” The “Chain” is also a tax increase, but only on income below the highest level, which means it will aggravate the inequalities that are hurting the vast majority of Americans.</p><p>Every generation will suffer if it passes, including those who have already retired. But for Millennials it will be a final late-life kick from the Randian State.</p><p><strong>A Letter to Millennials</strong></p><p>The year was 1984. Wham! and Cyndi Lauper were topping the charts.  The top movie of the year was, appropriately enough, The Terminator.  And the nation was re-electing Ronald Reagan. Americans are now suffering from birth to death as a result of this triumphal year for Randians, which plunged us deeper into a red-in-tooth-and-claw world and left millions struggling with its social consequences.</p><p>As they used to say back then: Have a nice day!</p><p>Dear Millennials:  We tried to stop them. We failed. We’re sorry.  Now we need a party – and more importantly, a movement – that will refuse to allow the continued destruction of government’s vital role in our social fabric.</p><p>Until we do, every generation will suffer. But you, the Millennials, will continue to carry the dubious distinction of being the first generation of Americans to have been assaulted from the cradle to the grave. For your sake and everyone’s else, you must fight back.</p><p>This Father’s Day, here’s a promise: Some of us will be right there beside you.</p><p>(This piece has been edited slightly since first published, mostly to replace the awkward phrase ‘Rand-y’ with ‘Randian.’)</p><div> </div> Mon, 17 Jun 2013 08:07:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 856260 at http://farfallino.alternet.org News & Politics rand ayn rand What It Costs the Worst Bank to Be Truly Evil http://farfallino.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/what-it-costs-worst-bank-be-truly-evil <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Billions paid for misdeeds; but nothing changes.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1363293243530-2-0_2.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>$16 billion.</p><p>That's how much JPMorgan Chase has paid in fines, settlements and other litigation expenses in the last four years alone.</p><p>More than half of that amount, $8.5 billion, was paid out in fines and settlements as the result of illegal actions taken by bank executives.</p><p>$8.5 billion is almost 12 percent of the net income the mega-bank brought in during the same period.</p><p><strong>High Overhead</strong></p><p>These figures comes from "<a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/130291230/GF-Co-JPM-Out-of-Control">JPMorgan Chase: Out of Control</a>," an impressive analysis of the bank's performance by Joshua Rosner, an investment analyst at GrahamFisher. And there's more. Since Rosner published his report only last week, JPMorgan Chase has settled another dispute.</p><p>This latest agreement is with the trustee for customers of fraudulent investment firm MF Global.</p><p>The MF Global <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/with-jpmorgan-settlement-mf-global-clients-move-closer-to-payout/?hp">deal</a> included a $100 million cash payout from Chase, and an agreement to waive the $417 million in claims it had made against MF Global's clients. If you add in the full amount of this agreement, the bank has given up more than $9 billion in settlements since 2009.</p><p>Now we're over 12 percent just in payouts. Throw in all the other litigation costs and the total comes to well over 20 percent of the bank's net income in a four year period.</p><p>And illegalities aren't the only thing that's costing JPMorgan Chase's shareholders a lot of money. There's also the London Whale foul-up, an apparently illegal series of trades that's already lost the bank $6.2 billion.</p><p>Add it all up. Then throw in the massive fines JPMorgan Chase paid before 2009, but after Dimon took the helm. Then add in the likely cost of the cases which loom before the bank today. You'll find that the Price of Evil for Dimon &amp; Co. is very high -- at least by normal standards.</p><p><strong>Bad Company</strong></p><p>Is "evil" too harsh a word? Merriam-Webster defines <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil">evil</a> as "morally reprehensible," "arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct," "causing discomfort or repulsion," or "causing harm." Which of those descriptions is not true for the leaders of an institutions that's paid billions for misdeeds such as:</p><ul><li><a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/with-jpmorgan-settlement-mf-global-clients-move-closer-to-payout/?hp">Reportedly</a> taking MF Global's customers' money as that firm was collapsing under the weight of its own fraud;</li><li><a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/with-jpmorgan-settlement-mf-global-clients-move-closer-to-payout/?hp">Closing</a> the bank account and freezing the credit card of a hedge fund manager because he criticized its handling of MF Global on television;</li><li>Bribing officials in Jefferson County, Alabama, which subsequently went bankrupt;</li><li>Fraudulently submitting court documents in support of its foreclosures, using a group of untrained college students and other young people (known in the firm as "Burger King Kids") to prepare and submit the papers.</li></ul><p>Follow the links at the bottom of the page if you want more information, but here's a sneak preview: Angels, they ain't.</p><p><strong>The Gang That Couldn't Cheat Straight</strong></p><p>If "evil" strikes you as too harsh you may not like the word "incompetent" either. But the Office of the Controller of the Currency, which is not known for being overly aggressive with bankers, secretly <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323639604578370781832140000.html?mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTTopStories">downgraded</a> its internal assessment of the bank's management and ruled that its internal oversight "needs improvement."</p><p>The OCC found that the "Matters Requiring Attention" within the bank include its much bragged-about risk management, its money-laundering controls, audit oversight, and its valuation of its trading positions."</p><p>What's a little laxity about money-laundering between friends?</p><p>They're not just taking us for a ride. They're <em>bad drivers. </em>By being both unethical and incompetent, the management at JPMorgan Chase has violated the moral principle expressed so eloquently the late, great country singer Vern Gosdin: "If you're gonna do me wrong, do it right."</p><p><strong>Who's in Charge Here?</strong></p><p>You'd think shareholders would be up in arms at Dimon and the Board of Directors for mismanaging their bank so badly. And yet they're all still in their seats, thanks in part to the way large corporations are allowed to manipulate their own corporate governance. Dimon is both CEO and Board Chair, an extraordinarily privileged position he was not asked to give up after the London Whale scandal.</p><p>And about that scandal: There are four things worth knowing about the Whale:</p><ol><li>The trades were illegal, according to all the evidence.</li><li>Despite the bank's bragging about its risk management model -- which it publicized widely as a lure to investors -- that model wasn't followed by the London office.</li><li>Jamie Dimon's publicists and politician friends have burnished his reputation as "America's best banker" - and he bypassed his bank's org chart so that the London unit reported directly to him.</li><li>His friends and publicists have also burnished his reputation as the country's most ethical banker. As Henny Youngman used to say, How do ya like me now?</li></ol><p>We've been all over JPMorgan Chase and Jamie Dimon for a long time. (See below for a partial listing), so we're glad to see the public tide finally turning against the bank and its leader. One of the triggers for that shift was the Senate's report on the bank's trade, which is as damning in its own way as Rosner's.</p><p><strong>Payback</strong></p><p>The media climate's changing, too. Lynn Parramore of Alternet has written a <a href="http://www.alternet.org/economy/spectacular-rise-and-fall-jamie-dimon-wall-streets-golden-boy">piece</a>called "The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Jamie Dimon, Wall Street's Golden Boy." A Google search of "Jamie Dimon" and "tarnished" (as in reputation) yields articles from <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2013/03/17/companies-paying-highest-income-taxes/1991313/">USA Today</a>, <a href="http://www.tricappartners.com/jpmorgan%E2%80%99s-bacon-says-%E2%80%98onus-is-on-us%E2%80%99-as-bank-tarnished/">Bloomberg News</a>, and <a href="http://www.wgbhnews.org/post/jp-morgan-chase-sees-profits-rise-halves-ceos-salary-london-debacle">WGBH News</a>. And Dimon was finally forced to <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/03/15/banco-popular-de-puerto-rico-chief-to-take-over-dimons-slot-on-ny-fed-board/">resign</a> his seat on the Board of the New York Federal Reserve.</p><p>At long last, people are openly questioning the competence and ethics of Dimon and his team.</p><p>But nothing's really happened. Dimon's still the boss. Nobody's been charged with a crime. The only 'punishment'the bank has faced has been fines which, while massive by ordinary standards, are a slap on the wrist considering the gravity of the offenses.</p><p>The bank executives who committed those crimes haven't paid a penny in restitution, nor have they been charged with crimes. Those fines have been paid by the bank's shareholders, who in some cases were the victims of the very crimes that led to the fine in the first place!</p><p>It's like we said the other day about Cyprus: In banking, the victim's expected to pay restitution to the criminal.</p><p><strong>Talk Talk</strong></p><p>Chase's most recent <a href="http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/ONE/2339885501x0x556139/75b4bd59-02e7-4495-a84c-06e0b19d6990/JPMC_2011_annual_report_complete.pdf">annual report</a>, the document which represents it to current and prospective shareholders, boasts of a "laser focus on managing expenses" and states that "As a business, we are guided by our objectives to expand and deepen client relationships, invest consistently in our franchise, and maintain our risk and expense discipline."</p><p>How's that working out for you?</p><p>Senators came down hard on these malefactors last week -- rhetorically, anyway. But the government isn't cracking down on this den of iniquity. It's enabling it. As Rosner notes, "Rather than being driven by the strength of its operations and management, many of JPM's returns appear to be supported by an implied guarantee (emphasis Rosner's) it receives as a too-big-to-fail institution."</p><p>That's right: Instead of cracking down on these guys, the government is helping them get even richer -- and helping their out-of-control bank get even bigger and more dangerous. And they're doing it at a time when the Attorney General of the United States has made it clear that he will not prosecute criminals at a too-big-to-fail bank like Chase. Talk is cheap, but actions speak louder than rhetoric.</p><p><strong>Crime Pays</strong></p><p>Life is still good for Dimon and some of the other senior executives at JPMorgan Chase: Shareholders can't -- or won't -- fire them. The government won't prosecute them. Taxpayers are helping them get rich. And every day their institution becomes bigger and more powerful. Sure, all that power doesn't come cheap, but they've found other peoplewilling to pay the price ...</p><p>$16 billion and counting.</p><p>The price of evil may be high at JPMorgan Chase, but the malefactors who actually committed the wrongdoing aren't paying it. Wrongdoing and incompetence may be expensive. But for executives at JPMorgan Chase and our other too-big-to fail banks, it's also surprisingly affordable.</p> Thu, 21 Mar 2013 14:48:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 813126 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace jp morgan 12 Biggest Right-Wing Lies About America http://farfallino.alternet.org/12-biggest-right-wing-lies-about-america <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">These political fallacies are giving America a false vision of our economy and world. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-01-01_at_7.26.27_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Our nation was gripped by so many fallacies and delusions in 2012 that the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world thing didn’t even make the list.</p><p>Even those apocalyptic prophecies were more plausible than the idea that cutting Social Security will help the deficit, that government spending cuts will jump-start the economy, there were no crimes on Wall Street, or that we live in a “divided nation” whose “center” wants more business as usual in Washington.</p><p>Here then, without further ado, are our Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.</p><p><strong>1. Austerity works.</strong></p><p>Last year we <a href="http://blog.ourfuture.org/20111227/Notable_Death_of_the_Year_RIP_Austerity_Economics_1921-2011" target="_hplink">said</a> austerity economics was dead. It is. Unfortunately nobody told the politicians. They’re still trying to force it onto the people of Europe, even as its effects make the economies there progressively worse.</p><p>They’re trying to force more of it on us, too. The Republicans want to decimate Social Security, Medicare, roads and highways, education, programs for the poor … The Democrats offer a more modest form of austerity, but austerity’s exactly what the President last proposed to Congress.</p><p>If austerity’s so good for us, why are they trying to terrify us with the a”fiscal cliff”? T heirMonster In the Closet is austerity. Apparently they don’t see the irony in that. But there’s something else they shouldn’t overlook.</p><p>Obama will never run for office again, but most of Democrats on the Hill will. Hope they don’t forget that – because we won’t.</p><p><strong>2. We need less government spending.</strong></p><p>The flip side of this delusion is the notion that government spending is our problem. It’s not. In fact, right now it’s the solution.</p><p>We need more jobs to stimulate the economy. Without them, large segments of the population will continue to live in a prolonged state of deprivation unless government does something about it.</p><p>We need more better education and more advancement opportunities for our children. And our roads, bridges and schools are crumbling all around us.</p><p>Spending cuts aren’t even the solution to the Federal deficit – not in the short term. Government spending falls as a percentage of GDP when the whole economy grows – and the way to make it grow is by priming the economic pump and building for the future, not with shortsighted spending cuts.</p><p>Know who’s a real job creator? Someone with a job.</p><p><strong>3. Social Security is in ‘crisis’ and we need to cut it.</strong></p><p>No, and No.</p><p>Yes, Social Security has a projected long-term shortfall in its ability to pay benefits,starting in 2036 or so. But that projection’s based on a lot of different assumptions – including the assumption that we won’t fix our wage stagnation problem, that we can’t put a lot more people back to work, and that we lack the political will to lift the payroll tax cap to make up for the shortfall in revenue caused by the unexpected increased in six-, seven-, and eight-figure income as the result of growing wage inequity.</p><p>And anyone who says that retiring Baby Boomers are part of the problem is peddling snake oil. The last Boomer was born in 1964, and we fixed Social Security in 1983. At least, it was fixed until the top 1 percent – and top 0.1 percent – started hijacking our national income.</p><p>What’s changed since 1983? We didn’t produce more Boomers. In 1983 the youngest of them was already old enough to drive to the record store for the latest Huey Lewis and the News album.</p><p>What we HAVE produced is more wealth inequity.<br /><br /><strong>4. Medicare benefits need to be cut, too.</strong><br /><br />Medicare has a serious long-term cost problem. But cutting benefits won’t help – whether it’s done by raising the Medicare age, by limiting what it pays for, or imposing arbitrary caps on what it will spend.</p><p>If we do those things, overall health care costs will continue to rise. And we’ll have sicker seniors, more seniors in poverty, and seniors who don’t live as long.</p><p>Means-testing won’t cut it, either. Scratch most means-testing proposals and you’ll find they’re not targeting “millionaires and billionaires” – they’re aimed at the middle class.</p><p>We already know how to handle “millionaires and billionaires” more fairly: Raise their taxes. That’s simple, clean, efficient, and fair.</p><p>The only way to fix our Medicare cost problem is by fixing the impact of unrestrained greed on our health care system. We need to do something about that — now.</p><p>We don’t need to cover less. We need to pay less.</p><p><strong>5. We’re “living beyond our means.”</strong></p><p>More snake oil.It’s undertaxed corporations and billionaires who are living beyond our nation’s means, by claiming an inordinate and unearned share of our nation’s wealth and not paying their fair share of taxes for it.</p><p>We have the means to be the country we’ve always been. What we’ve lacked is the political will to buck the moneyed forces who are dismantling a system that’s worked for 75 years.</p><p>Ours is a country that won two world wars. We once led the world in economic growth and blazed the way in science, technology, and the arts. We decided to send human beings to the moon and back in ten years … and did it.</p><p>Now we’re told it’s “beyond our means” to live as well as we did in 1969. There’s a word for that, but it’s not printable.</p><p><strong>6. Our problems aren’t anybody’s fault.</strong></p><p>This fallacy might be called the “Sh*t Happens” school of economic thinking. It says that the economy just crashes from time to time, recurrent and unavoidable disasters just like earthquakes.</p><p>But we avoided these crises for decades by regulating Wall Street and prosecuting crooked bankers. When we stopped doing those things we got another crisis.</p><p>Cause and effect.</p><p><strong>7. Banks paid back what they owed us from the bailout.</strong></p><p>Here’s why this is a fallacy: First, we don’t have a full accounting even now. Secondly, we’re still responsible for the enormous amount of toxic risk which Wall Street created and the government then assumed on its behalf.</p><p>Besides, that’s not how business works. Every major bank in this country was a failing business with intolerable risk exposure. Loans under those conditions are of enormous and inestimable value.</p><p>When you ask nothing in return – not partial ownership, not a percentage of the profits, not even an end to their criminal behavior – you’re giving away the store. And when you give those loans to serial crooks and cheaters – people who serially cheat you – people, you’ve been had.</p><p><strong>8. Wall Street-ers didn’t commit any crimes – or they’re too hard to prosecute.</strong></p><p>Which gets us to our next fallacy, or fallacies. There’s overwhelming evidence, and a mound of billion-dollar settlements, demonstrating that banks — and individual bank executives — broke laws over and over in the run-up to the current crisis.</p><p>These mountains of prima facie evidence were ignored, and continue to be ignored, by the Obama/Holder Justice Department.</p><p>Now we’ve learned that all the banks knowingly defrauded regulators in a LIBOR scandal. All of them!</p><p>LIBOR is like one of those Agatha Christie novels where all the suspects did it.</p><p><strong>9. “Ideologues” are getting in the way of “bipartisan” and “technocratic” solutions to our problems.</strong><br /><br />This is another fallacy – one they’ve been using to sell unwise, unpopular, and unfair policies. It’s usually attached to billionaire-funded corporate agendas like those of the “Simpson Bowles” plan, the Democratic group called Third Way, and the corporate CEOs of “Fix the Debt.”</p><p>They always say their plan’s been designed by “technocrats,” but that “ideologues” and “divisiveness” are getting in the way.</p><p>But the so-called “ideologues” fighting austerity represent Americans in all walks of life, across the political spectrum. They also represent a growing consensus among most economists who aren’t tied to right-wing institutions – including Nobel Prize winners like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and those who work for the IMF.</p><p>There’s a word for the people who keep complaining that the “ideologues” are getting in their way: Lobbyists.</p><p><strong>10. A “divided nation” elected a “divided government” through a democratic process.</strong></p><p>No. Democrats won the Presidency and the Senate by decisive margins, both state-by-state and in the popular vote. They even won a handsome victory in the House, but lost it because of sleazy GOP gerrymandering.</p><p>They won because they promised to defend Social Security and Medicare, and to tax earnings over $250,000. Now the President and Nancy Pelosi are pushing a plan that cuts Social Security, even though there’s no evidence the Republicans are insisting that Social Security be part of the deal.</p><p>Think the election would have turned out this way if Obama and Pelosi had told the public what they’d be doing in December?</p><p>Republicans aren’t speaking for half of a divided nation. And Democrats who don’t live up to their campaign promises aren’t honoring the small-”d” democratic process.</p><p><strong>11. It’s about politicians.</strong></p><p>“Obamabots” vs. “Obama bashers”: It’s on. Again. But it’s not about Obama – or Bill and Hillary, or any other political leader. If you attach your hopes to them you’re setting yourself up for a snow job, like Bill’s huckstering of late for the Fix the Debt/Simpson/Bowles corporate austerity plan.</p><p>But the flip side – hating or resenting them – is a distraction, and it can eat away at the soul.</p><p>Politics is not a celebrity sport. Corporate interests understand that. They’ve gotten a lot of politicians to throw the game by throwing their money around, and even some of the better ones feel they’ll lose if they don’t compromise.</p><p>Sure, brave politicians can make a huge difference. (Thank you, Bernie Sanders. And Raul Grijalva. And Keith Ellison. And Jan Schakowsky. It’s a long list, and we hope to add Elizabeth Warren and a couple more names to it soon.)</p><p>We still need to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” — especially in the form of hero-worshipping or demonizing the human beings who hold or seek high office.</p><p><strong>12. We’re helpless.</strong></p><p>Yes, it’s a rigged game. Yes, our democracy’s been tainted and compromised.</p><p>But mobilized citizens prevented the President from proposing Social Security cuts in his 2010 State of the Union speech. The Occupy movement changed Democratic political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers aand arguably changed the election results.</p><p>Some people say, So what? Look at what they’re trying to do now. That’s true — about some of them. But we’ve gained leverage, and we should use it.</p><p>While we’re developing new political leaders and institutions, we must stay mobilized for the struggles already underway: To protect Social Security and Medicare. To rein in Wall Street crime. To defend ripped-off homeowners and other mistreated corporate customers. To fight spending cuts and protect the vulnerable. To create jobs — good jobs — for every American who wants to work.</p><p>Difficult? Sure. Risk of failure? Definitely. But impossible?</p><p>That’s a fallacy.</p><div> </div><p> </p> Mon, 31 Dec 2012 14:41:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 769193 at http://farfallino.alternet.org News & Politics economy fallacies conservative right wing 4 Secrets Republicans Are Keeping About Medicare to Convince Us That $600 Billion in Cuts Are Necessary http://farfallino.alternet.org/4-secrets-republicans-are-keeping-about-medicare-convince-us-600-billion-cuts-are-necessary <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">This entire Medicare debate&#039;s being held under false pretenses.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_-__2012-12-10_at_11.08.38_am.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The Republicans are demanding $600 billion in Medicare cuts over the next ten years. Their only concrete proposal is to deny Medicare coverage to Americans during what is now their first two years of eligibility, at ages 65 and 66. But their official offer isn't even that specific. It just throws out that figure: $600 billion. But you can't get there from here.</p><p>At least you can't do it their way - not without causing enormous hardship, and not without costing the public<em>twice</em> as much from other sources as would be saved in government spending.</p><p>In fact, there are only two paths to $600 billion in savings. One's macabre and morbid, and is offered here only to make as a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Swift">Swiftian</a> "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Modest_Proposal">modest proposal</a>." The other would take a chunk out of corporate profits.</p><p>Which path do you think the GOP would prefer?</p><p>This entire Medicare debate's being held under false pretenses. Here are four multibillion-dollar Medicare secrets they don't want you to know - along with that funereal "modest proposal":</p><p><strong>1. Runaway corporate profits are squeezing medicare.</strong></p><p>Republican Sen. Bob Corker echoed the party line today when he said that cutting "entitlements" was needed in order to "<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/obama-boehner-meet-white-house-discuss-fiscal-cliff-article-1.1216542">save the nation</a>." But benefit cuts aren't where the money is: <em>profits</em> are.  We did some rough calculations to show you just how much profit's involved:</p><p>Roughly $200 billion in Medicare spending will go to drug company profits in the next 10 years. (We got that figure by averaging the profit margins for large pharmaceutical corporations by projected Medicare drug expenditures.) And yet the Republicans have blocked legislation that would allow the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate for a better deal. So the drug companies can charge us whatever they want - and we pay it.</p><p>Medicare has reportedly underpaid for hospital services at times. But for-profit hospitals have an average profit margin of 5.5 percent. What they're not receiving from Medicare is 'cost-shifting' to private health insurance. We pay for that, too -  in insurance premiums and tax concessions for employer-sponsored coverage.  With Medicare hospital expenditures likely to approach $2.5 trillion in the next ten years, that's costing society a fortune.</p><p>And that doesn't include high margins in the <em>non-profit</em> hospital field, where CEOs frequently earn more than a million dollars as a reward for maximizing revenue. Nor do these figures include the profits received by all sorts of other for-profit health providers ranging from diagnostic centers to ambulatory surgery clinics.</p><p><strong>2. We receive far too much unnecessary care, and are often fraudulently billed for the care that is given.</strong></p><p>Then there's what may be the most expensive effect that greed has on Medicare: overtreatment. A series of exposés (some of which we discussed in "<a href="http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/sick-money-how-mitt-romneys-bain-investments-are-exploding-deficit-and-harming-our">Sick Money</a>," a review of Bain Capital's health investments) have revealed gross patterns of fraudulent Medicare overcharging.</p><p>Even worse tis the overtreatment that's done to boost profits. Unnecessary procedures are difficult and uncomfortable at best, and at worst they can lead to pain, disability, even death. This overtreatment's been documented in both academic studies (John Wennberg's <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=1&amp;cad=rja&amp;ved=0CDUQFjAA&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dartmouthatlas.org%2F&amp;ei=FF_FUMv6A-fziQK6lYCADA&amp;usg=AFQjCNGOGrUuoq9x4oZ_kHwi--p0gTbbbQ&amp;sig2=FWdN2u9FbwVq8o2ecwNiMA">Dartmouth Atlas</a> is a great resource) and some excellent journalism.</p><p>And it's getting worse. Now hospitals are buying physician practices and exerting <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/business/a-hospital-war-reflects-a-tightening-bind-for-doctors-nationwide.html?src=me&amp;ref=general">financial pressure</a> on doctors to perform more surgeries. But the truth is that doctors have always been under financial pressure to overtreat. They graduate from medical school with tons of debt and must then maintain a profitable practice, including everything from equipment to office staff.</p><p>And yet Republicans have beaten back attempts to control this overtreatment with their "death panel" hoax. That  myth is only slightly less believable than "black helicopters." There <em>are</em> death panels - but they're manned by insurance executives, not bureaucrats.  Republicans have fought Medicare by telling us that doctors shouldn't be "employees" of the government. Now they're employed by MBAs who want a fat bonus.</p><p>Does overtreatment research interfere with our right to choose our own care?  I want to make an <em>informed</em>choice - and I don't want anybody cutting me open if it isn't absolutely necessary.</p><p><strong>3. Seniors are already being hit hard by medical costs.</strong></p><p>People who aren't covered by Medicare and don't know much about it often assume it covers all, or most, medical expenses. But the average person on Medicare <a href="http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-02-2012/medicare-get-the-facts.html">pays</a> roughly $4,600 per year in out-of-pocket medical costs, and that figure can be much higher for those who are severely or chronically ill or who have suffered a serious injury.</p><p>Boehner's figure of $600 billion over 10 years is a reduction of approximately 7.8 percent from current projections. But Medicare enrollment will increase from 49 million people to 85 million over the same period. Assuming that these Republican cuts are made permanent, that means that Medicare's per-person budget will have been cut by more than 15 percent by the year 2022.</p><p><strong>4. Chronic conditions and end of life illnesses are extraordinarily expensive.</strong></p><p>They're not proposing to do anything about Medicare's biggest cost problem: the care that's provided to the severely ill, especially in the final year of life. As the Dartmouth Atlas <a href="http://www.dartmouthatlas.org/keyissues/issue.aspx?con=2944">reports</a>, "Patients with chronic illness in their last two years of life account for about 32% of total Medicare spending." That comes to nearly 2.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, based on current projects. And yet the GOP is proposing to slash, not increase, funding for research that might help us provide end-of-life care more effectively and humanely.</p><p>The elderly are particularly prone to other costly chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes, which can be treated much more effectively - and much less expensively - if they are caught early. Instead, their plan to deny Medicare to people aged 65 and 66 will lead to <em>less</em> early diagnosis and intervention, making us sicker and driving up Medicare's costs.</p><p><strong>It's Your Funeral</strong></p><p>That leads us to our "modest proposal." Any way you look at it, we're going to be seeing an increase in the number of funerals if Medicare benefits are cut. <a href="http://www.bepress.com/fhep/5/3/">Research</a> has shown that the survival for seniors in this country increased by 13 percent when Medicare was introduced in the 1960s.</p><p>It's reasonable to assume that those survival rates will begin to fall again - and death rates will rise - if we impose mindless benefit cuts, instead of taking an intelligent cost management approach that focuses on expense drivers such as overtreatment, overbilling, and excessive profiteering.</p><p>The Republicans want drastic cost reductions without disturbing corporate profits. Using their logic, they shouldn't take away our <em>first</em> two years of Medicare coverage. They should take away the <em>last</em> two years.  That would cut Medicare expenditures by more than a third.</p><p>And what do they care about one more funeral here or there - as long as it's not theirs?</p> Mon, 10 Dec 2012 11:03:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 758371 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy News & Politics medicare gop $600 billion 7 Big Lessons from Obama's Win http://farfallino.alternet.org/election-2012/7-big-lessons-obamas-win <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">This election was a clear and unequivocal victory for the populist positions the President took on the campaign trail.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/topstories_obama060925560.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>So, let’s get this straight: A Republican President is re-elected in 2004 with 284 electoral votes and the pundits say he has the “political capital” to push an extreme right-wing mandate. A Democratic President gets re-elected in 2012 with 303 electoral votes, and they’re telling us he needs to “unite a divided country.”</p><p>Nonsense.</p><p>This election was a clear and unequivocal victory for the populist positions the President took on the campaign trail. Don’t believe the hype: This was a great night for progressives, populists, and agents of change. Our political system may be dominated by Big Money, but this was a victory for the 99 Percent.</p><p>We’ve been through our Dark Night of the Soul. Now it’s time for inspiration — and for determination to build on these victories in the weeks, months, and years to come. I’m not known for being a “silver lining” kind of guy, but there’s a lot of silver in the sky this morning.</p><p>Here are seven lessons from this election that have been under-reported, or overlooked completely, in all the media frenzy. They include Occupy Wall Street’s victory, the “Harold and Kumar” factor, Harry Reid’s big mandate, and the fact that “Socialism” sells.</p><p><strong>1. Occupy Wall Street won big.</strong></p><p>The Occupy movement may have disappeared from the national media eye, but this election was a big win for its vision and language. As that movement caught the national imagination, the President quickly (and wisely) adopted its populist rhetoric. That may have hurt the tender feelings of America’s CEOs, especially those on Wall Street, but it help cement his decisive victory.</p><p>The nature of that victory was underscored by wins for staunch progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, even as far-right candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down in defeat.</p><p>The President’s populist theme didn’t end with his victory. He spoke last night of a “generous America,” a “compassionate America,” a “tolerant America.”</p><p>His deeply victory moving <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/07/barack-obama-speech-full-text" target="_hplink">speech</a> mentioned deficit reduction – once – but emphasized the following themes: Our “common bond.” The “weakening” effect of “inequality.” The “destructive power of a warming planet.” “The best schools and teachers.” Ending our two wars. Investment in “technology and discovery and innovation,” with “good jobs” to follow.</p><p>The President deserved his victory. But as this election came to a close, it was the dreamers in Zuccotti Park who Occupied the Night.</p><p><strong>2. This was a bigger victory than it looks.</strong></p><p>John Nichols did an excellent piece in <em>The Nation</em> comparing last night’s victory to that of previous Presidents. <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/171085/obama-bigger-win-kennedy-nixon-carter-or-bush" target="_hplink">Read it</a> and remember: This was the first post-<em>Citizens United </em>election. Billionaires and corporations poured hundreds of millions of dollars into races across the country, as well as the Presidential campaign -</p><p>- and they still lost.</p><p>When you compare last night’s Democratic victory to previous election results, add a “billionaire factor” to get a more apples-to-apples comparison.</p><p>(I should be a better person than this, but I take no small amount of satisfaction in knowing that Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers wasted lots and lots and lots of money this year.)</p><p><strong>3. Social issues will help Democrats now.</strong></p><p>Voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational pot-smoking, while a medical-marijuana initiative won in Massachusetts. This may be the first time in history that getting high actually increased voter turnout. At this rate politicians may soon find themselves courting that all-important “Harold and Kumar” demographic.</p><p>For years liberals have watched in frustration as conservatives coasted to victory on social issues, despite the harm that their economic policies caused conservative voters. That’s the phenomenon Thomas Franks discussed in <em>What’s the Matter With Kansas?</em> Anti-gay marriage initiatives were used to increase conservative turnout and wound John Kerry in 2004, for example.</p><p>A few short years ago it was considered unthinkable for politicians to support civil unions for gay Americans. But this year’s ballot initiatives on marriage equality and marijuana may have hurt Republicans, as all Americans – among them young people of all political views, including young evangelicals – are becoming markedly more liberal on social issues, as marriage equality initiatives won in Maine and Maryland.</p><p>In a victory for free choice, Florida’s attempt to ban the use of public funds for abortion failed. At this rate some conservative will soon write book about Democratic victories in the Deep South called <em>What’s the Matter With Mississippi?</em> (Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?)</p><p><strong>4. Harry Reid! Good ol’ Harry Reid! He’s got a mandate.</strong></p><p>This election was a great victory for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid strengthened that majority, despite being forced to defend more seats than the Republicans, and he did it with candidates who tended to be strongly progressive.</p><p>Warren won in Massachusetts, as did Sherrod Brown in Ohio both. Tim Kaine pulled out a win in Virginia, in part by decisively rejecting the “centrist” agenda of the austerity-minded Simpson Bowles proposal. Meanwhile a candidate who did embrace the “centrist” agenda, Bob Kerrey, was defeated in Nebraska.</p><p>As Majority Leader, Harry Reid now has a clear mandate to fight for populist causes and resist the radical-right agenda of Congressional Republicans. Reid has made it clear that he opposes any cuts to Social Security benefits. With Senators like Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and Sherrod Brown by his side, he has the moral and political capital to defend them.</p><p>Reid also has a mandate to reform the Senate’s procedural rules, which minority Republicans have repeatedly abused in order to thwart the will of the American majority. Newly-elected Maine Senator Angus King, who is a relatively conservative Independent, campaigned on a platform of filibuster reform. Harry Reid alsohas the political capital to reform the Senate.</p><p>Harry Reid. He’s not loud or pushy, but he last night he got it done. (Update – When it comes to Social Security, Harry’s already <a href="http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSBRE8A620320121107?irpc=932" target="_hplink">on it</a>. Like we were saying: Good ol’ Harry Reid.)</p><p><strong>5. “Socialism” sells</strong></p><p>In today’s political rhetoric, the word “socialism” is used to describe policies that were universally accepted by politicians across the political spectrum. Here’s one example: The Republican Party platform of 1956 boasted that millions had been added to Social Security’s rolls, and to the membership of America’s unions, during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Eisenhower built the Federal highway system. President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and proposed a universal guaranteed income for all Americans.</p><p>From Roosevelt to Reagan, the ideas now labeled as “socialist” were universal American values.</p><p>Those values won again last night. President Obama’s victory in Ohio would not have been possible if he hadn’t taken the most “socialistic” action of his Presidency by taking over the auto companies in order to rescue them. He saved millions of jobs – and turned a profit for the country, too.</p><p>And while Florida hasn’t been called as of this writing, it’s in play because the President strengthened Medicare,while his opponents tried to destroy it with their voucher proposal, and because Republicans attacked Social Security with a privatization scheme.</p><p><strong>6. Unions and progressives matter.</strong></p><p>Unions turned out for the President, providing invaluable help in key states like Ohio. Progressive organizations and individuals contributed their time, money, energy, and ideas. That helps explain progressive victories around the country, as well as the President’s national win.</p><p>Progressives also contributed heavily to races like that of Alan Grayson, who scored an historic comeback win in a Republican-leaning district, and nearly helped unseat Michele Bachmann.</p><p>The power and contribution of these movements should be remembered in the weeks and months to come.</p><p><strong>7. The “new America” needs bold action.</strong></p><p>There’s a lot of talk about the “new America” that contributed to this victory: women (who are a rising political force, even if they’re hardly new!), the growing Hispanic population, and young people.</p><p>These constituencies need the same things the country as a whole needs: Hispanics are struggling with low wages and high unemployment, so they need action for jobs and economic growth. Health issues are critical to women, which means we need more and deeper reform of our health sector. Young people need more investment in education, job creation, and a equitable society with opportunity for all.</p><p>Welcome to the “New America.” In many ways it’s just like the old one, especially in what matters most: We’re still all in this together.</p> Thu, 08 Nov 2012 09:03:00 -0800 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 741378 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 News & Politics obama mandate election 2012 Locked in a Tight Election, GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack's 'Third World Toilet' Comments About Her District Resurface http://farfallino.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/locked-tight-election-gop-rep-mary-bono-macks-third-world-toilet-comments-about <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Bono Mack has a history of insensitivity to the 99%.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_-__2012-10-25_at_10.09.27_am.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Wealthy Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack is locked in a tight and bitter Congressional race against a progressive Democrat with an inspiring story. While her campaign focuses on red-baiting her opponent (yes, they still do that in 2012) a new nonpartisan analysis shows that Mack scores "zero" on voting for the interests of the middle class.</p><p>Actually, make that less than zero. Mack has actively worked to undermine middle-class interests, including those of her own constituents, many of whom are struggling underwater homeowners. She's also displayed withering contempt for some residents of her own district, whose neighborhoods she <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/24/1135657/-Daily-Kos-Elections-Morning-Digest-In-email-Bono-Mack-laughs-at-Coachella-as-third-world-toilet" target="_blank">laughingly agreed</a> was a "third world toilet."</p><p>There's something particularly distasteful about seeing someone who earned her Congressional seat the "old-fashioned way" -- that is, through nepotism, cronyism and big-money politics -- describe the homes of her own constituents that way.</p><p><strong>Middle Class "Mack Attack"</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.themiddleclass.org/">TheMiddleClass.Org</a> (a project of the Campaign for America's Future, where I am a Senior Fellow) recently analyzed the voting record of every member of Congress and created the <a href="http://themiddleclass.org/voterguide/">Middle Class Voters Guide</a>.</p><p>As the Huffington Post <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/18/campaign-for-americas-future-grades-congress_n_1979970.html">noted</a>, this was a truly nonpartisan analysis that scored some Democrats poorly. As might be expected, however, Republicans as a group scored worse. A number of them, in fact, scored an absolute "zero" on representing the middle class.</p><p>Representatives with that dubious distinction include Paul Ryan -- and Mary Bono Mack. How does a Representative get a "zero" on middle-class issues, anyway? Here's how <a href="http://themiddleclass.org/voterguide/index.php?member_id=22">Mary Bono Mack</a> did it:</p><p>Bono Mack voted for the Ryan/Romney/Republican budget, which (among other things) would dismantle Medicare as we know it and leave an ineffectual voucher system in its place. That budget also cuts funding for everything from cops on the beat to early warning of floods and hurricanes.</p><p>Although Bono Mack expresses concern about the national debt, she voted against the Progressive Congressional Caucus budget that reduces that debt. It would also create middle-class jobs and rebuild schools and bridges.</p><p>She voted to extend the Bush "millionaire and billionaire" tax cuts which would give her fellow millionaires an average tax break of $160,000 every year -- while leaving middle class and lower-income Americans on the ropes financially.</p><p>Bono Mack also voted to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to extend jobs-killing "free trade" to South Korea, and against employees' rights to organize.</p><p><strong>The Challenger</strong></p><p>In a better world, Mack's voting record would be the focus of the campaign. Instead her team is going after opponent Raul Ruiz, an idealistic young physician with an inspirational <a href="http://www.drraulruiz.com/about">life story</a>, for <a href="http://www.mydesert.com/article/20121021/NEWS03/310210044/">statements</a> he made as a young activist at Harvard.</p><p>The attacks on Ruiz for youthful actions don't seem to be working. Ruiz went door to door in the Coachella Valley as a young man, asking for donations toward his education and promising to serve the community once he graduated.</p><p>He kept that promise.</p><p><strong>Changing the Subject</strong></p><p>Nobody has accused Mary Bono Mack of a lifelong passion for political engagement and social change. She married the much older pop musician turned restauranteur Sonny Bono at the age of 25. Sonny reportedly entered politics after becoming frustrated with the red tape it took to open his Palm Springs restaurant. That's not a problem most people can relate to.</p><p>But my musical background prevents me from saying anything bad about the guy who wrote "Needles and Pins." Sonny and Cher may not have been my favorite musical group, and Salvatore Bono's greatest musical gift may have been self-promotion, but he succeeded on his own terms -- and he wrote some good songs. I think I would've liked him.</p><p>Bono's tragic death in 1998 opened the door to a political career for his wife. Many fine public servants entered politics the same way, including California's admirable Representative Lois Capps. Bono Mack should be judged on her merits and her own record.</p><p>It's not a good record. No wonder she's trying to change the subject.</p><p><strong>Big-Money Mary</strong></p><p>Bono Mack's political views reflect the economic interests of her big-money donors far more than they do that of the middle-class and lower-income voters in her district. She's raised more than <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cycle=Career&amp;type=I&amp;cid=N00007068&amp;newMem=N">$11 million</a> since 1998, and her top contributors include The National Auto Dealers Association, ATT, the National Realtors Association and the National Home Builders Association.</p><p>No wonder she's shown so little interest in the plight of her district's homeowners, who have seen their housing values plummet and foreclosures go through the roof. Higher-income homes are rebounding in her district, but years of plunging home prices have left her middle class constituents saddled with debt, stripped of their savings and facing a wave of foreclosures.</p><p>That big-money focus has continued in this year's campaign, where Bono Mack had raised more than $1.8 million as of <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00007068">last report</a>. Her top industry contributors include Comcast and Qualcomm, which is undoubtedly the result of her fight for big telecom companies -- and against consumers.</p><p>Roughly half that money -- nearly a million dollars -- comes from PACs, while more than $700,000 comes from large individual contributors.</p><p>Mack's got about a third more money in her coffers than Ruiz, according to <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary.php?id=CA36&amp;cycle=2012">the data</a> -- and that's not counting third-party ad buys from corporate-funded organizations like Karl Rove's American Crossroads GPS. Ruiz has received more than twice as much from small contributors, but that doesn't make up for his shortfall from the big-money crowd. In this tight race, he'll take every penny he can get from small contributors.</p><p><strong>Dirty Words</strong></p><p>As John Chapman pointed out in <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/11/04/266385/-Another-Macaca-Moment-Help-me-publicise-this?detail=hide">Daily Kos</a>, Bono Mack had a "<a href="http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=macaca%20moment">Macaca moment</a>" when she sent an email to a far-right local radio host.</p><p><em>"Thank you!!!!"</em> Mack wrote to the jock. <em>"I heard some of your remarks with the councliman from Coachella. You were great!!!!!! Unbelievably great!!! Third World Toilet? That was too funny ... You rock and are so damn funny and smart! Hey, how come you don't send me poems and Shakespeare anymore? I miss that!"</em></p><p>It's a measure of Bono Mack's tastelessness that even the radio host seemed embarrassed and responded <a href="http://i129.photobucket.com/albums/p223/JoeGreentrees/Bono_Racism.jpg">coolly</a>.</p><p>A group of high school and college students <a href="http://coachellaunincorporated.org/2012/09/24/opinion-student-reporters-respond-to-congresswoman/">responded</a> more thoroughly to Bono Mack's email, after her office issued a placid and ineffectual denial:</p><p>"I welcome Bono Mack to walk the streets of Duroville, especially after the recent torrential downpour so she can experience firsthand what it really is like to live a life where the very air you breathe may be poisonous and where the streets you walk are covered in waste."</p><p>Bono Mack voted to gut environmental regulations.</p><p>"If Bono Mack is making such remarks when she thinks no one is noticing, what stops her from feeling the same way about neighboring cities?"</p><p>Or, to put it another way, what does she think about the "47 percent"?</p><p>"The living conditions of Duroville are not comedy sketch material. Treating them as such is tantamount to playground bullying."</p><p>Bullying seems to <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/mitt-romney-recall-bullying-gay-classmate-republican-candidate-high-school-pranks-politics-16323580" target="_blank">go with</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/veronica-percia/mitt-romney-bullying_b_1980499.html">the territory</a> for rich Republicans nowadays.</p><p>"I would appreciate very much if our Congresswoman would see the Eastern Coachella Valley's current living conditions as a call to action rather than a source of amusement."</p><p>But you can't cut taxes for her wealthy friends in Palm Springs unless you ignore living conditions, not only in the Eastern Coachella Valley, but anywhere outside the enclaves of the wealthy and powerful.</p><p><strong>Time For Change</strong></p><p>Mary Bono Mack isn't a bad person. Her stands on gay rights and prescription drug addiction are commendable.</p><p>But she doesn't seem to know or care very much about the lives of her own constituents. Maybe that's because she's so wealthy she doesn't share their problems. It can't help that, as the wife of a Florida politician (Rep. Connie Mack), she doesn't spend much time with them anymore.</p><p>Whatever the reasons, Mary Bono Mack is hopelessly out of touch with most people's fears and concerns. She's been unhelpful -- in fact, downright destructive -- to the economic needs of the middle class. The voters of her district would be wise to select someone who can truly represent them as their Representative in Washington.</p><p><strong>P.S.: Additional items of interest</strong></p><p>Campaign for America's Future is running an <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2012104005/ad-campaign-will-take-back-congress-middle-class">ad campaign</a> which tells voters about vulnerable Representatives who have low ratings in the Middle Class <a href="http://themiddleclass.org/voterguide/">Voter Guide</a>. You can contribute to the campaign by clicking <a href="https://caf.democracyinaction.org/o/11002/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=7088">here</a>.</p><p>There's more information on Raul Ruiz <a href="http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/richard-eskow/46186/drraulruiz.ngpvanhost.com">here</a>.</p><p>You can hear "Needles and Pins" on YouTube -- by the great <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSbM_Zmx9kA">Jackie DeShannon</a>, the <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypv1lZlW1WY">Searchers</a> (the British group who had a big hit with it), and the <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGWR3uI3Qa0">Ramones</a>. (This isn't Joey Ramone's best performance -- his pitch is off in places -- but I still maintain that the under-appreciated lead singer was the male Ronnie Spector).</p><p>You can learn more about Sonny's co-writer, the brilliant if troubled Jack Nitszche,<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Nitzsche">here</a>.</p><p>There's also a very decent cover of "Needles and Pins" by <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bio-2wiMmnw">Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty</a>.</p><p><em>Fun Fact: </em>Tom Petty's hometown of Gainesville, FL, is just a couple of hundred miles from the home district of Mary Bono Mack's husband, Rep. Connie Mack.</p><p><em>More Fun Facts:</em></p><p>Connie Mack's district is 2,541 miles from Mary Bono Mack's district.</p><p>Connie Mack is not to be confused with legendary guitarist<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonnie_Mack"> Lonnie Mack</a>. Lonnie, like Sonny Bono, earned his rewards solely through his own talents and effort.</p><p>By contrast, Connie Mack got his political career through family connections -- a trait he shares with his wife, and with his party's presidential candidate. Mack's father was a prominent Representative and Senator, and he had political connections on his mother's side too.</p><p>Our political system, especially our system of campaign funding, gives enormous advantages to wealthy and well-connected people like Connie Mack, Mary Bono Mack and Mitt Romney. Those advantages aren't available to idealists like Dr. Raul Ruiz.</p><p>The name we have given to that political system is "democracy."</p> Thu, 25 Oct 2012 10:00:00 -0700 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 733312 at http://farfallino.alternet.org News & Politics Election 2016 News & Politics mary bono mack third-world toilet 10 Reasons You Should be Suspicious of Wall Street's Facebook Fiasco http://farfallino.alternet.org/story/155554/10_reasons_you_should_be_suspicious_of_wall_street%27s_facebook_fiasco <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase all have a history of the kinds of unethical and/or illegal behavior that might explain what happened with Facebook.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Three of Wall Street biggest and best-known financial institutions handled the Facebook IPO, so why were people immediately suspicious when the stock soared and then promptly tanked? Easy answer: Because three of Wall Street biggest and best-known financial institutions handled the Facebook IPO.</p> <p>Each of them - Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase - has a history of exactly the kinds of unethical and/or illegal behavior that might, just might, explain what happened with Facebook.</p> <p>Mark Gongloff offers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/22/facebook-stock-price_n_1536410.html" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">a good overview </a>of Mr. Zuckerberg's Wild Ride, in which a stock that was offered at an IPO price of $38 soared to $45 and then plunged to its current (as of this writing) price of $31. A lot of people lost money - which means a lot of people made money, too.</p> <p>Zuckerberg promptly sold his 30.2 million shares, netting a quick billion dollars and change. That tells you what <i>he</i> thinks of this investment.</p> <p>Here are ten reasons why it makes sense to be suspicious of the Facebook IPO, starting with the fact that any overview of the three institutions which handled it might best be described as "rounding up the usual suspects":</p> <p><strong>1. Morgan Stanley has a history - and a culture - of tricking their own clients into making lousy investments</strong>.</p> <p>It was Morgan Stanley's brokers who, in one notorious account, loved to brag "I ripped his face off!" after convincing one of the firm's own clients to buy a stock that the firm knew was lousy. (See Frank Portnoy's account in <i>Fiasco.</i>)</p> <p>CNBC <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/47506995" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">reports</a> that "Morgan Stanley may have spent billions of dollars to support the (Facebook) stock price by buying shares in the market." This kind of market manipulation is common. They do these things to create an artificial sense of momentum when the market is turning against an offering. Investors don't know they're doing it at the time, of course. In this case, Morgan Stanley could have spend a billion dollars or more manipulating the stock price.</p> <p>Now Morgan Stanley's being investigated by the SEC and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, after reports indicated that its analysts were withholding crucial (and negative) information about the stock offering and at the same time sharing it with their own favored clients. That's a no-no.</p> <p><strong>2. JPMorgan Chase has a long rap sheet. What's another bust?</strong></p> <p>JPMorgan Chase is currently in the public time-out box for its botched derivatives trades in London - about which which it appears to have deceived its own investors (when it failed to tell anyone that the new, improved "risk model" it rolled out was<i>not</i> being used to analyze this London unit.)</p> <p>When CEO Jamie Dimon said that laws may have been violated in that case, was he expecting people to be surprised? JPM has a long history as a corporate lawbreaker during Dimon's tenure. It paid millions to settle a long list of violations that includes illegally cheating veterans coming home from Iraq - or still risking their lives there. It gave up nearly three quarters of a billion dollars to settle charges of bribing public officials in Jefferson County, Alabama. (Jefferson County is bankrupt. JPM's executives are doing just fine.)</p> <p>And JPMorgan Chase just gave up billions more to settle charges stemming from its rampant foreclosure fraud, which involve mass perjury and forgery conducted by a group of inexperienced youngsters that JPM employees called "the Burger King kids."</p> <p>The JPM rap sheet's got a lot more offenses on it, but that should give you the general idea. Dimon loves to affect an air of respectability. But his outfit ain't the PTA, if you catch my drift.</p> <p><strong>3. Goldman Sachs is ... well, it's Goldman Sachs.</strong></p> <p>In one of its many notorious deals, <a href="http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-59.htm" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">ABACUS</a>, Goldman Sachs lied to prospective investors about mortgage-backed securities. While it was telling investors that these securities were well-chosen and reliable, it was hiding the fact that they were actually being selected by an investor who was famous for betting <i>against</i> them.</p> <p>Goldman recently settled a <a href="http://ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2012041512/secgoldman-sachs-sweetheart-deals-worst-one-yet-0" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">$22 million lawsuit </a>for illegally sharing confidential information with its preferred clients, which is a form of insider trading, using internal meetings called "huddles."</p> <p>That's a lot like the conduct that's being investigated at Morgan Stanley, and the questions it raises is the same one: Was this IPO designed to fail? Barring that, did insiders only tell a few favorites once they knew it <i>would</i> fail, so that they could all get rich betting against the suckers who didn't know any better?</p> <p>Who's huddling who in the Facebook deal?</p> <p><strong>4. Goldman Sachs already tried to evade the law for Facebook once before.</strong></p> <p>If at first you don't succeed ...</p> <p>At the time we asked, "<a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2011010212/which-more-gangsta-50-cents-twitter-move-or-goldmans-facebook-deal" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">Which Is More 'Gangsta,' (rapper) 50 Cent's Twitter Stock Pitch or Goldman's Facebook Deal?</a>" We stand by our original conclusion: Sorry, Fitty.</p> <p>Lloyd Blankfein's entourage tried to avoid SEC regulations that say a privately held company can't have more than 500 investors by defining many thousands of unrelated investors as a single group. They demanded a minimum $2 million investment - there ain't no sucker like a rich sucker - and pitched the deal in language that would embarrass a Nigerian email scammer:</p> <blockquote style="text-align: left; background-color: rgb(238, 238, 238); border: 1px solid rgb(187, 187, 187); margin: 6px; padding: 6px; font-family: Georgia, Times, serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px; ">"When you have a chance I wanted to find a time to discuss a highly confidential and time sensitive investment opportunity ... If you agree not to use information that we reveal to you ... I will be able to disclose the name of the company and provide you with more information..." <p> </p></blockquote> <p>They should've started the pitch letter with the words "Dearest Beloved, My late husband the oil minister ..." As <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/01/07/goldmans-facebook-voodoo-why-its-social-media-deal-is-worse-than-toxic-mortgages.html" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">Nomi Prins</a> noted at the time, the plan was to artificially inflate the value of these illegally-traded shares and then ""pawn off the overpriced goods on the clients."</p> <p>They tried to run that little number back in 2010 but failed. Did they finally succeed this time?</p> <p><strong>5. There's no such thing as a free market.</strong></p> <p>Thanks to deregulation, our "free markets" ain't free - in fact, they're less free than at any time in modern history.</p> <p>Nevertheless the anti-regulatory crowd insists on describing what we have today as a "free market," instead of what it really is: a financial funhouse where investors don't know until it's too late which pop-up vampire is a cardboard cutout and which one's really going suck their blood. "Ripped his face off" indeed.</p> <p>That's not market economics, it's a horror show.</p> <p><strong>6. Facebook's a shaky investment anyway.</strong></p> <p>Think about it: With all the money they have at their disposal, Zuckerberg and his team still can't design a user interface that doesn't frustrate, aggravate, and infuriate millions of people every day. Sure, people <em>use</em> it - because everybody else does. But that was true of MySpace, too, until something better came along. Facebook has a mind-boggling number of users, and they spend an equally mind-boggling amount of time on it every day. But even Mafia Wars come to an end sometime.</p> <p>What's more, the stock they're peddling isn't much to write home about. Their voting rights are highly diluted, so that the stock owned by Zuckerberg and other preferred holders has ten times as much voting power as everybody else's. Zuckerberg owns 18 percent of Facebook's shares, but has absolute control of the company with 57 percent of the votes.</p> <p>When something's as overhyped as Facebook stock, it's caveat emptor time. You're throwing yourself at Zuckerberg's mercy, hoping he does better with the company than he has designing Facebook's account management features. (Tried changing your privacy levels lately?)</p> <p>But if he mismanages your money you'll just have to bend over and get poked.</p> <p><strong>7. Mark Zuckerburg doesn't give a rat's you-know-what about investors or IPOs.</strong></p> <p>"A million dollars isn't cool," says Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker in that movie about Zuckerberg and Facebook. "A <em>billion</em> dollars is cool." It was a cool week for Zuckerberg, who just made another billion, but he doesn't think much of investors.<a href="http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2012/fortune/1205/gallery.5-signs-Facebook-hates-shareholders.fortune/?hpt=hp_t1" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">Stephen Gandel</a> lays out all the ways it shows, starting with the fact that Zuckerberg didn't want to take the company public and keeps reminding everybody about it. SEC rules - the same rules Goldman tried to evade last year - forced him into it.</p> <p>Zuckerberg also kept blowing off investors at scheduled meetings. Frankly, that's a refreshing change from all the CEOs I've known who kowtow to them (and often game the numbers to impress them). But it doesn't exactly strengthen one's confidence that this offering was designed with the best interests of investors in mind.</p> <p>And while CNN's Gandel concludes that Zuckerberg doesn't care about making more money, I'm not so sure. He's sure made a lot in the last few days. For its part, Goldman's already shown that it's willing to trade on insider information to help high-value clients - clients like<a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010031225/meg-whitmans-shady-goldman-sachs-past-it-californias-future" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; "> Meg Whitman</a>. They called it "spinning," and it involved rewarding executives who gave them a lot of corporate business (which uses their investors' money, not their own) shares in IPOs they're underwriting.</p> <p>Whitman was forced to resign from its board and pay a multimillion-dollar fine after the story became public. If they'd "spin" for a piece of eBay's investment action, what motions would they go through for Facebook's?</p> <p><strong>8. These three players have a huge collective presence on Nasdaq.</strong></p> <p>Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are almost always in the top ten in reported trade volume on NASDAQ, where Facebook was offered. And JPMorgan Chase provides financial backing to many of these deals. Together they represent a huge chunk of NASDAQ (and New York Stock Exchange) transactions. They control a lot of the trading flow and they're sitting on a lot of data.</p> <p>That means they can manipulate the market in all sorts of ways. And they can leverage other people's money and make it work ... for them.</p> <p>So while we're at it, remind me again: Why do we allow so few companies to dominate our financial market? It's called an "oligopoly," and it's bad. It's especially bad when they become too big to fail and can pretty much do whatever they want, knowing we'll rescue them again if - make that when - they screw up again.</p> <p><strong>9. There was a lot of automated trading of Facebook shares.</strong></p> <p>The roller-coaster ride for Facebook's stock also appears to involve very high volumes of electronic robo-trading, which always raises <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010052017/wall-street-terminators-casino" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 170); font-weight: 700; text-decoration: none; ">suspicions</a>. That could just be a sign that the computer programs which now dominate our stock market (and which cry out for a financial transactions tax) didn't like the transaction. If so, they're smarter than most humans.</p> <p>Or it could mean that these three firms, which together play a dominant role on Nasdaq, pulled a fast one of some kind. Somebody needs to analyze those 'flash' trades and find out.</p> <p><strong>10. Because they can.</strong></p> <p>Hey, these three underwriters can do whatever they want - and they know it.</p> <p>Until some bankers get indicted - which doesn't seem likely anytime soon, given the glacial pace of the Administration's much-hyped (but now apparently forgotten) mortgage fraud task force - they can break any law or rule they want to break. What's the worst that could happen to them? If they get caught they'll negotiation another gigantic fine and let the shareholders (including working people's pension funds and 401ks) pick up the tab while they collect their bonuses and head off to the Hamptons.</p> <p>So, until the Administration shows us some Wall Street indictments, the usual suspects will keep committing the usual offenses over and over. The Justice Department needs to get serious about investigating Wall Street fraud. And more states should join Massachusetts in investigating this deal.</p> <p><strong>This one goes to 11 ...</strong></p> <p>Do we know that's what happened with the Facebook IPO? No - and we <em>won't</em> know without a proper investigation. But we <em>do</em> know that the Facebook plunge reflects a classic scenario for shady traders who make money hyping a stock while secretly betting against it.</p> <p>And we know that all three of these institutions are perfectly capable of doing it. They have the means, they have the motive, and - until our government does something about it - they have the opportunity.</p> <p>So get on with it, Washington. You better update your status on those fraud investigations before it's too late.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->RJ Eskow is a writer, business person, and songwriter/musician. He has worked as a consultant in public policy, technology, and finance, specializing in health care issues, domestically and in over 20 foreign countries. </div></div></div> Wed, 23 May 2012 05:00:01 -0700 RJ Eskow, Campaign for America&#039;s Future 670913 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Media Media wall street facebook Bill Clinton, Boehner, And Some Other Rich White Guys Had A "Summit" And Agreed: It's Your Fault http://farfallino.alternet.org/story/155464/bill_clinton%2C_boehner%2C_and_some_other_rich_white_guys_had_a_%22summit%22_and_agreed%3A_it%27s_your_fault <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Any questions? Let&#039;s hope not, because they&#039;re all busy men and it&#039;s great golfing weather this week in DC.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><span style="background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); ">This week</span><span style="background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; ">a bunch of rich white guys held a "Fiscal Summit" and agreed that:</span></p> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">1. Despite the fact that unemployment is causing untold suffering for millions of people, it's not very important.<br style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; " /> 2. Despite the fact that wage stagnation is destroying the middle class, that's not important either.<br style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; " /> 3. Despite the fact that we need the social safety net more than ever after what they've done to the economy, it's expendable.<br style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; " /> 4. Despite the fact that our government can borrow money at record low rates and use it to put people to work, thereby ending the recession and jumpstarting the economy, that option's not even worth discussing.<br style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; " /> 5. Despite the fact that these men all possess great power, wealth, and/or influence, everything that's wrong with the economy is your fault.<br style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; " /> 6. Since it's all your fault, you better get ready to pay up.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Oh, and one other thing:</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">7. They're all very smart and very brave. It's too bad the rest of you people are such jerks.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Any questions? Let's hope not, because they're all busy men and it's great golfing weather this week in DC.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">(Sure it's hot, but the weather calls for refreshing bouts of rain.Those are the perfect moments for cooling off under a rain-soaked cabana or golf cart umbrella. Precious moments, meant for breathing in the smell of wet grass as waiters marinated in Maryland raindrops refresh your gin and tonic. Mr. President? Mr. Speaker? Last one to the clubhouse is a rotten egg!)</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The Summiteers convened in a nation wracked by unemployment and filled with crumbling schools and bridges. There they concluded that our most urgent problem is ... government deficits. That's like preaching about water conservation when your house in on fire.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">Stuff White People Like</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The best that can be said about this billionaire-funded display of arrogance, ignorance, and self-satisfied moral decay is this: If bullish*t were nickels they could have ended the deficit today.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Then there's the self-congratulation. It doesn't matter what nonsense they spout: They think their long years in insulated, oak-lined boardrooms means they know more than you do. It wouldn't have surprised me if one of them had suddenly burst into Rutger Hauer's soliloquy as a dying android in <em style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">Blade Runner</em>:</div> <blockquote style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; margin: 10px 25px; padding: 10px 20px 0px; border: 1px dotted rgb(119, 119, 170); background-color: rgb(255, 249, 238); font-style: italic; ">I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.</blockquote> <p style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "> </p> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">And yes, all of these guys are rich. Some have more money than others, but nowadays anybody with a guaranteed income and a lavish source of retirement income is. Fat pensions? They all have 'em - at your expense.Until then they can bank on some sort of cushy job or income stream from the Pete Petersons of this world if things turn sour for them politically.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The behavior of Reps. John Boehner and Paul Ryan was, if nothing else, predictable. Sure, it's always shocking to observe the callous indifference of rich people toward those in financial need. But their callousness is baked into their politics.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">I Got Mine 2012</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The low point of the day was the spectacle of former President Clinton mouthing false platitudes designed to gut everything his party once represented. The bogus arguments put forward by Clinton and the session's other willfully uninformed participants have been decisively refuted time and time again since they were first raised - in 1935!</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">And they were decisively put to rest by a<a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/institute/blog-entry/2010104114/cold-case-file-who-shot-down-70-year-old-attack-social-security" target="_blank" style="color: rgb(159, 0, 40); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; text-decoration: none; "> bipartisan committee</a> (doesn't the sacred word "bipartisan" help?) assembled by a Republican President - in <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">1958</i>.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Think of it: The Bowles/Simpson plan touted by Clinton would gut student loans and other educational programs that might someday help some other young kid from Hope, Arkansas follow in his footsteps. You'd think that would mean something. But then, like the other major participants, Bill Clinton's already got his.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Maybe that should have been the event's name: "I Got Mine 2012."</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">Can't Stop Won't Stop</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The welfare "reform" which Clinton <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2012041616/centrist-myth-has-failed-americas-moms-will-dems-learn-time" target="_blank" style="color: rgb(159, 0, 40); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; text-decoration: none; ">supported</a> has swelled the ranks of the poor and separated mothers from their children while doing nothing in the long run to end poverty. That added special piquancy to the sight of the self-satisfied post-President silkily arguing that we should take the same "reform" hatchet to Social Security and Medicare.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">If Bill Clinton had any moral perspective he'd be holding Jimmy Carter's hammer at a Habitat For Humanity building site somewhere, not pushing programs that would doom the middle class.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">But he won't stop, of course - not as long as billionaire Pete Peterson is able to entice Clinton and other "Summit" participants will all the flattery and free publicity money can buy. Peterson's also able to spoon-fed them those predigested economic lies which serve his agenda as Nixon's former Commerce Secretary: the downsizing or dismantling of any government programs that don't directly enrich corporations.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The Simpson/Bowles agenda which Clinton embraced is the perfect example: It actually <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">lowers</i> the top tax rate for the nation's highest earners, while promising to raise taxes a little elsewhere (mostly by eliminating deductions that help the struggling middle class, like the mortgage interest deduction, and removing the employer health insurance deduction that provides millions of working Americans with at least a modicum of health coverage.)</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Simpson and Bowles are two rich white guys, too: A retired Republican Senator and a Democratic insider turned hedge fund speculator. Under their plan the middle class would melt away like - how did the android put it? - "like tears in rain."</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">J'Accuse!</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Former President Clinton wasn't the only wealthy and powerful white man to take the stage. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, and Speaker of the House John Boehner joined Commerce Secretary-turned-hedge-fund billionaire Peterson. While they might have differed slightly on the details, they spoke with one voice about how our problems came about in the first place: It's your fault.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Yeah, you. Don't look to the right or left. You. As a non-rich and non-powerful American, you're to blame for all our woes. Too many of you chose to be born as baby boomers, says Clinton. Your grandparents are "greedy geezers," says the perennially unpleasant Alan Simpson. You took that bank loan, just because the bank told you a house was your best investment. (So did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.)</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">As billionaires, Presidents, Cabinet secretaries, and leaders of Congress, what chance did they have against seniors, working people, and the disabled? It was never a fair fight.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">So when they cut your Social Security check and dismantle Medicare, remember: It's your fault. Now it's time to pay the piper.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">Money Talks</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">That's the kind of nonsense you can buy with a billionaire's money. Tax filings show that Pete Peterson put nearly half a billion dollars into the foundation that held this summit - and that's just in four years. He's been trying to gut Social Security, Medicare, and other vital government programs for at least twenty-five years. Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/peter-peterson-foundation-half-billion-social-security-cuts_n_1517805.html" target="_blank" style="color: rgb(159, 0, 40); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; text-decoration: none; ">outlined</a> some of the initiatives Peterson has founded or funded over the decades: the "America Speaks" town halls, the Fiscal Times, the "Indebted" series on MTV, the Social Security specialist at the Urban Institute, the "Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget," a politically biased high school curriculum ... the list goes on and on.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">But Blumenthal and Grim missed a few organizations Peterson secretly formed. They overlooked the Daughters of the American Revolution, SDS (he wrote the Port Huron Statement - but not the compromised second draft), the Quarrymen, the Royal Order of Buffalo, and the Shriners. (Hats and tiny cars? Brilliant! It's even better than <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010051914/petersons-deficit-budgetball-ithe-fountainheadi-meets-ideath-race-2000i" target="_blank" style="color: rgb(159, 0, 40); margin: 0px; padding: 0px; text-decoration: none; ">Budgetball</a>.)</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Okay, maybe not the last few. The point is, a whole lot of politicians and policy wonks have benefited from Peterson's billions, which have been spread around a variety of organizations in order to create the illusion of consensus - consensus which slowly became real in Washington, and which is diametrically opposed to the public's preferences.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">The Rich Get the Elevator. The Middle Class Gets the Shaft.</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">"Simpson-Bowles makes the Social Security system more progressive," said Bill Clinton. Actually, it would gut Social Security benefits while lowering the top tax rate for billionaires like Peterson and millionaires like Clinton. That's the opposite of "progressive." But it would give the illusion of 'progressivity' by offering a slight benefit bump to the extremely poor, funded by benefit cuts for the middle class.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">It would also give a tiny bump to seniors who live an especially long time after retirement. That would also be funded by middle-class benefit cuts. And since minority and low-income life expectancy is still far below that of white people in general - and white women in particular - this would also be economically regressive.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">(Given its demographic impact, perhaps these wealthy white men created this policy as an early Valentine's Day gift for their wives.)</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The fact that this false 'progressively' would transform a social insurance program into a welfare program seemed to disturb the former President not one bit. And he seemed entirely unaware of the what it means to the political discourse when a former Democratic President argues for a plan that would cut taxes even more for the wealthiest Americans, while cutting the few hundred dollars per month received by many elderly and disabled Americans in order to provide benefits for the poor. Bill Clinton calls that "progressive."</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">And that was the <i style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">leftmost</i> wing of the Fiscal Summit's leadership.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">Post-Partisan</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Needless to say, the conservative movement got a lot of bang for Peterson's buck. "There are Democrats and Republicans who largely agree with each other on how best to tackle these challenges," said Paul Ryan. "Unfortunately, it's not the current president and it's not the Senate leadership that we're dealing with right now."</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The radical right-winger then added: ""I personally believe if we can remove these partisan roadblocks, that we can get to a moment where we're going to have a solution once and for all for this problem and hopefully in time to prevent an austerity-like debt crisis."</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The "partisan roadblocks" to which Ryan refers are the words and deeds of those few politicians who try to do the public's will in Washington. Thanks to events like these, the <em style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">vox populi</em> is seldom heard anymore around these parts. It's like a barely noticeable scent clinging wisp-like to the flowering trees along the capital's boulevards.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">At a Peterson event, the word "partisan" is used to describe any position which is both politically popular and economically sound.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; "><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; ">Crying Time Again</strong></div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">An "austerity-like crisis" is precisely what we'll have if the programs promoted at this event are implemented.I ts agenda closely resembles the one that's currently decimating Europe. Thank God Tim Geithner was there to speak for our newly-populist President and his Administration. What did Geithner say to refute all this radical right-wing talk? How did he fight for investment in our individual and collective futures? What did he say to champion the cause of rebuilding our crumbling nation - and our crumbling dreams?</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">The final compromise will look a lot like Simpson/Bowles, said the Treasury Secretary.</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">And was our fiercely independent media there, unwilling to be bought at any price and tireless in its quest for the truth? Yes. NBC's Tom Brokaw fearlessly spoke truth to power, summoning the vision and ferocity of the Biblical prophets as he chastised ... the American Association of Retired Persons. Brokaw said its ads defending Social Security were "in (politician's) faces."</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">That's our media for you. It's ever fearless in its defense of the powerful against the powerless. (Brokaw to old folks: Hey, "Greatest Generation," put a cork in it!)</div> <div style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 12px; ">Pete Peterson's campaign needs to be exposed. Bill Clinton needs to step away from the public sphere. Propaganda disguised as 'journalism' needs to be discredited. Washington's fraudulent claim to bipartisanship needs to be retired once and for all. Unless and until these thing happen, our dreams as a nation and our financial futures as individuals will continue to melt away like ... well, like tears in rain.</div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->RJ Eskow is a writer, business person, and songwriter/musician. He has worked as a consultant in public policy, technology, and finance, specializing in health care issues, domestically and in over 20 foreign countries. </div></div></div> Wed, 16 May 2012 10:00:01 -0700 RJ Eskow, Blog for Our Future 670804 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Economy Economy clinton economy boehner Mitt Romney's America: Five Pictures From the Future http://farfallino.alternet.org/story/154941/mitt_romney%27s_america%3A_five_pictures_from_the_future <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Romney&#039;s endorsement of the Ryan budget paints a chilling picture of where he plans to take America</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1334090746_301843873c72d5284be.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> Economic radical Paul Ryan<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-president_n_1390773.html"> has endorsed Mitt Romney</a>, Romney's embraced the Ryan budget, and the House Republicans have voted to enact the Romney/Ryan vision of the future into law. Yet an eerie silence has settled over the vision itself: How would it affect our daily lives? What kind of country would we become?</p> <p>The Romney/Ryan America of tomorrow is more like the science-fiction worlds of H.G. Wells' Time Machine or Fritz Lang's Metropolis than it is like the United States as we know it. The privileged few would be even more wealthy than they are today, while the rest of us struggle to survive in a dystopic world of disease, deprivation, and fear.</p> <p>That's not lefty rhetoric, either. All you have to do is read the budget.</p> <p>What did Romney say about Ryan's budget? "He is setting the right tone for finally getting spending and entitlements under control. Anyone who has read my book knows that we are on the same page." For his part, <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/2012-presidential-campaign/ryan-romney-will-enact-my-budget-20120325">Paul Ryan expressed confidence</a> that Romney will enact something very close to the budget he proposed and House Republicans passed this week.</p> <p>And yet the real vision they're offering for the country is somehow off-limits in polite company. They're being treated like reasonable politicians, rather than as radicals whose social agenda is severely out of step with that their predecessors in both parties. That has to stop. We need to quit discussing the political horse-race and start talking in real-life terms about the country they intend to create.</p> <p>Here are five glimpses of the American future under Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans:</p> <p><strong>1. Diseased America</strong></p> <p>Forget what it means to be a just society for a moment (they certainly have) and think about what it will mean for the public health of our nation if the Romney/Ryan budget is ever enacted.</p> <p>By 2022 their plan would cut Federal Medicaid funding by roughly one-third. The Urban Institute has estimated that <a href="http://www.offthechartsblog.org/ryans-rx-for-medicaid-would-add-millions-to-the-uninsured-and-underinsured/">states would drop between 14 million and 27 million people </a>from Medicaid by 2021. Provider reimbursements would drop by roughly one-third, too, meaning that even people who still have Medicaid coverage will find it increasingly difficult to find doctors and hospitals willing to treat them. The Romney/Ryan plan's radical changes to Medicare would also dramatically cut older Americans' access to health care.</p> <p>We live with the constant threat of deadly pandemics like avian flu and SARS. The fact that those two diseases didn't kill millions shouldn't be taken as proof that it can't happen, any more than failed terrorist attacks prove we aren't at risk: We are. And we're increasingly facing the risk of MRSAs and other deadly drug-resistant infections, which have a tendency to develop and spread in medically underserved populations such as inner cities and prisons.</p> <p>So forget the inhumanity of this plan, one-percenters, and look at it selfishly: The Romney/Ryan plan to dismantle health will endanger your lives.</p> <p><strong>2. Time Machine America</strong></p> <p>Middle class? Not in their world. There will be the rich -- and everybody else.</p> <p>The Romney/Ryan plan guts the financial security of middle-class Americans by leaving them to face on old age of deprivation, impossibly costly health care, and reduced benefits. What's more, their radical cuts will create a cascading wave of unemployment that will make today's intractable job situation even worse.</p> <p>At the same time the Romney/Ryan plan promises more huge tax cuts for the wealthy and uber-wealthy (more about that shortly), which it tries to offset by closing unspecified loopholes.</p> <p>Which loopholes could they mean? There aren't many to choose from. They probably intend to cut or eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction, which would decimate already-struggling middle class homeowners, and the tax deduction for employer-provided healthcare, which would leave middle-class Americans with even less health coverage than they have today.</p> <p>Their tax policy, along with the dismantling of our retirement security, will guide us toward that H.G. Wells world, where a small pampered elite frolicking in luxurious gardens while the rest of the country struggles in dark underground tunnels of job insecurity and financial difficulty.</p> <p><strong>3. Starving America</strong></p> <p>And a lot of those "underground Americans" will starve. As the <a href="http://www.offthechartsblog.org/low-income-programs-would-bear-the-brunt-of-ryan-cuts/">Center for Budget and Policy Priorities</a> documents, 62 percent of the Ryan/Romney cuts come from programs that serve low-income communities.</p> <p>Millions of people would <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2012031330/%3Ca%20href=" www.offthechartsblog.org="" ryan-budget-takes-big-bite-out-of-food-stamps="" title="http://www.offthechartsblog.org/ryan-budget-takes-big-bite-out-of-food-stamps/">http://www.offthechartsblog.org/ryan-budget-takes-big-bite-out-of-food-s...</a> "&gt;lose access to food stamps</p> <p>or see their benefits cut substantially, even though studies have shown that this program doesn't contribute to the deficit in any substantial way. (In other words, they're just doing it because they don't like people in need.)</p> <p>The Ryan/Romney plan to promote what Ryan calls "Welfare Reform Part 2" ignores the lessons of Part 1. By reducing funds and turning many of these programs back to the states, their plan would subject low-income Americans to humiliating tests, steep benefit cuts, and other cutbacks.</p> <p>The end result would be a steep increase in food insecurity and hunger, in a nation that's already at or near the top of the charts for these problems when compared to other industrialized nations. In fact, at <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodSecurity/stats_graphs.htm">last report </a>more than 9 percent of US homes experienced "food insecurity" and 5.4 percent of homes were severely food insecure. Expect those figures to rise sharply in Ryan and Romney's America.</p> <p><strong>4. Death-Star America</strong></p> <p>Romney and Ryan don't want to cut all government spending. They're proposing steep increases to defense expenditures, in ways that clearly violate the last "grand bargain" between Congressional Republicans and the President.</p> <p>When combined with their steep cuts elsewhere, which reduces all non-mandated government spending to something close to zero, the Romney/Ryan vision of government is one that provides less than the bare minimum to its citizens while spending many times (see <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&amp;id=3453">CBPP </a>and <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/03/21/paul_ryan_s_plan_to_eliminate_the_entire_non_health_non_military_undertakings_of_the_federal_government.html">Matt Yglesias</a> for more) what other nations spend on extravagant and needless military programs.</p> <p> </p> <center><img alt="2012-03-30-RYANROMNEYDEFENSESPENDING.jpg" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2012-03-30-RYANROMNEYDEFENSESPENDING.jpg" /></center> <p> </p> <p>Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would turn our nation into an armed fortress, ringed on the outside with expensive but often nonfunctional science-fiction weaponry and rotting from within from poverty and fear.</p> <p><strong>5. Obscene-Wealth America</strong></p> <p>That's the world the rest of us would live in. But for wealthy people like Mitt Romney life would be very sweet indeed. Millionaires would get to keep their extravagant Bush tax cuts, under which a top tax rate that was 91 percent under Eisenhower and 70 percent under Reagan is only 35 percent - and Ryan and Romney would top that off by giving them another $265,000 per year in cuts!</p> <p>As the <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&amp;id=3728">CBPP</a> reports, " After-tax incomes would rise by 12.5 percent among millionaires, but just 1.9 percent for middle-income households" - and after the many other cuts and "loophole closings" in Romney/Ryan, after-tax income would actually plummet for those middle-income families.</p> <p><strong>Conclusion: RomneyWorld USA</strong></p> <p>All that - and it doesn't even reduce the deficit! In fact, <a href="http://reason.com/archives/2012/03/26/the-ryan-romney-budget">Ira Stoll</a> correctly notes in Reason that "it would increase federal outlays to $4,888 billion in 2022 from $3,624 billion in 2012, an increase of about 35% over ten years."</p> <p>And yet Ryan's being celebrated in the media as a "bold" advocate for deficit reduction, and he's Mitt Romney's right-hand man on the economy. Americans need to understand what kind of country we will become if they succeed. Mitt Romney is likely to become the standard-bearer for his party, and he has embraced this vision of the future.</p> <p>Voters need to understand what that means. When they talk about budgets they're not talking about numbers on a page. They're talking about us.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->RJ Eskow is a writer, business person, and songwriter/musician. He has worked as a consultant in public policy, technology, and finance, specializing in health care issues, domestically and in over 20 foreign countries. </div></div></div> Tue, 10 Apr 2012 10:00:01 -0700 RJ Eskow, Campaign for America&#039;s Future 670287 at http://farfallino.alternet.org Visions The Right Wing Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Economy News & Politics Occupy Wall Street Visions poverty budget romney ryan Footage from '96 Proves Hillary Lied About Bosnia Trip [VIDEO] http://farfallino.alternet.org/story/80459/footage_from_%2796_proves_hillary_lied_about_bosnia_trip_%5Bvideo%5D <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Had Obama been caught in a lie of this magnitude, his campaign might well be over.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><br />If you're Hillary Clinton and you've just been caught in a "whopper," the only thing to be grateful for is that it's Good Friday and people are distracted. How bad could this story be for her? When you tell the American public you faced gunfire, and it turns out all you <i>really</i> faced was a little girl with flowers -- well, that's as bad as it gets. When you dramatically say you made a journey that was too dangerous for the president, only to have it revealed that he made the same trip two months earlier -- and that your teenaged daughter was by your side -- that only makes it worse.<br /><br /><br /><br />And there's <i>video.</i><br /><br /><br /><br />If they wanted to, the networks could juxtapose video of Sen. Clinton's dramatic recitation of the battle with this clip of that sweet eight-year-old on the tarmac with a bouquet. The question is: Will they want to?<br /><br /><br /><br />Just <a href="http://www.hillaryclinton.com/news/speech/view/?id=6553">this week Sen. Clinton said</a> that she landed in Bosnia under "sniper fire," adding: "There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base." Clinton used to tell Iowa audiences: ""We used to say in the White House that if a place is too dangerous, too small or too poor, send the First Lady."<br /><br /><br /><br />And her 16-year-old kid?<br /><br /><br /><br />This latest deception is<a href="http://blog.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2008/03/hillarys_balkan_adventures_par.html">documented in detail in the <em>Washington Post</em></a> by a reporter who was there. The paper awards her statements "four Pinocchios," a rating they reserve for political misstatements they describe as "whoppers."<br /><br /><br /><br /><em>"Whopper" (Merriam-Webster): "An extravagant or monstrous lie."</em><br /><br /><br /><br />Comedian Sinbad's <a href="http://blog.washingtonpost.com/sleuth/2008/03/sinbad_unloads_on_hillary_clin.html">now-famous response</a> to Sen. Clinton's claims was to say, "What kind of president would say, 'Hey, man, I can't go 'cause I might get shot so I'm going to send my wife...oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.'" He added, "I think the only 'red-phone' moment was: 'Do we eat here or at the next place.'"<br /><br /><br /><br />As is often the case these days, the Clinton campaign responded to this observation by sticking to their story, and even embellishing it (in this case, with colorful details about running for cover under fire). That could turn out to have been a catastrophic mistake -- but that, as with so much in American politics, depends on the media and how they choose to handle it. They've saturated us for nearly two weeks with video of Rev. Wright, who as it turns out didn't say anything more extreme than what <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/21/mccain-spiritual-guide-ac_n_92757.html">other candidates' spiritual advisors have said</a>. Will this flap get the same attention? It remains to be seen.<br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->RJ Eskow is a writer, business person, and songwriter/musician. He has worked as a consultant in public policy, technology, and finance, specializing in health care issues, domestically and in over 20 foreign countries. </div></div></div> Sun, 23 Mar 2008 03:50:01 -0700 RJ Eskow, Huffington Post 645462 at http://farfallino.alternet.org News & Politics Election 2008 Video Old_Blog Type Content iraq clinton terrorism obama mccain bosnia sinbad