Friday, September 30, 2011

Interview with Gary Johnson: "Fair Tax" questions...



This Blogger has always greatly appreciated Gary Johnson’s social libertarianism and record as Governor of New Mexico. In fact, of all the GOP candidates, Johnson is by far my favorite. And so, this afternoon, I had the opportunity to participate in a blogger’s Conference Call with the Governor to ask him policy questions.

I decided to ask him about his one position that bothers me the most: his support for the so-called “Fair Tax,” a national 23% sales tax he would like to use to replace both the federal income tax and the social security tax. Those who support the Fair Tax point to the fact that it taxes consumption, not income and that the IRS and the insanely complicated income tax code could both be abolished. A major criticism of that plan - that poor people will be significantly affected - is countered by Fair Tax proponent’s plan to send every household a $200 monthly check (called a “Prebate,” since it is a rebate of taxes to be paid that month) to help them pay for the new tax they would be paying on all goods. Here is how our discussion went”

Tully: Governor, I have three questions about your Fair Tax proposal. First, given your proposal for a “Prebate,” aren’t you really just encouraging a society-wide sense of dependency on Government checks?

Johnson: “The Prebate would amount to $200/mo, or $2,400 a year…you can’t avoid paying taxes, so everyone would get a check up to the poverty level, and that would cover the amount of tax you’d be paying.”

[I found the response disappointing, and not at all on-point. He told me how it would work, but never addressed my question which was about creating a societal dependence on checks from the government.]

Tully: Second, at a time when consumer spending and confidence is at a low, wouldn’t the shock value of a large sales tax reduce consumer spending even more?

Johnson: “There might be a very temporary withdrawal of consumerism, but we’re going to have to buy food, we’re going to have to buy gasoline, we’re going to have to buy clothing”

[His response ignored the economic concept of Opportunity Cost. If I am spending more of my income on gasoline or food, then I will have to spend less on some other item somewhere. I understand the idea is that by eliminating an income tax, each worker would have more disposable income in their pocket because they wouldn’t have those deductions; but even Governor Johnson had to admit to a ‘temporary withdrawal of consumerism.’ That ‘temporary’ withdrawal would lead to decreased GDP, increased unemployment as businesses lay off workers because fewer products are being purchased, and lower consumer confidence over all – none of which would be helpful in this economy. In fact, a ‘temporary’ withdrawal might lead to a very long-term downward spiral.]

Tully: You claim that you would be able to eliminate the IRS through this proposal, but who would collect the Fair Tax and send out the prebate checks? States that have sales taxes still have Departments of Revenue to collect them.”

Johnson
: “The prebate checks would be mailed by the Social Security administration…states that have sales taxes have agencies that collect them…it’s fairly easy.”

[Again, I was unsatisfied with Johnson’s response here. If the Social Security Administration – which currently sends out checks to retirees only – will have to send checks to every household, this will require a massive increase in the agency’s size. There will be abominable record-keeping as the agency tracks the moves, divorces, separation and deaths of every single American. The IRS might be abolished, but the SSA would have to take up the slack.

Further, *some* agency would have to receive and log and track sales tax receipts, which would be coming from every business in the United States. And – as has so often been the case in this poor economy, and as every state Department of Revenue will confirm – some agency will have to track down the thousands of businesses that will be late in sending this tax to the federal government (Cash-strapped businesses are notorious for using tax receipts to help with their own cash flow in poor economic times.) The notion that the IRS will just disappear and not be replaced by an even greater agency is unrealistic.]

Johnson has a decent track record as Governor, and in the private sector. He has Executive experience, and grew his construction company from one person to 1,000, the largest in his state. His opposition to the war on drugs and support for civil liberties makes him a likable candidate on social issues (certainly more likeable than any other Republican), and his fiscal conservatism was realistic and tested as Governor of New Mexico.

But his support for the Fair Tax is not well-thought through…or at least not well articulated...and not a campaign strength.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Meet "Buddy" Roemer (who?), Presidential Candidate

Charles “Buddy” Roemer, the sincerest Presidential candidate you’ve never heard of, swung through New Hampshire today, making a planned stop in my Macroeconomics class at Keene State College. A native of Louisiana and educated at Harvard, Roemer is an interesting study in contrasts: He was elected to four terms in the House of Representatives and then as the Governor of Louisiana as a Democrat; but in 1991, he became a Republican. He was defeated in his bid for re-election when Jack Kent, the owner of Marine Shale (which had been cited for serious polluting) spent $500,000 of his own money to defeat Roemer in the primary; Roemer came in third. Though Roemer did not mention this incident, it surely colored – or at least informed – his strong condemnation of Big Money in American politics. He is one of the few Republicans calling for spending limitations and campaign finance reform.

He is running for President, but refuses corporate contributions and thus far has been shut out of all the televised debates. At times, listening to him was similar to listening to your grandfather meticulously spin out stories and advice as you politely sit in your seat at the table; other times he was darn near Harry Trumanesque in his condemnation of the special interests and politicians who manipulate the economy. As he weaved together his folksy lecture to approximately 40 students, he occasionally reverted to a thick Louisianan accent as he spoke in colorful metaphors more reminiscent of a Baptist preacher than a politician; he compared current efforts at campaign finance reform to merely “trimming a tree” of some scraggly leaves, when was needed was an axe at the roots.

I have to admit that, in spite of my being a political junkie, I was largely unaware of Roemer’s bid for the Presidency. He has spent the last several years as the President and CEO of Business First Bank, a bank which he proudly notes is profitable, focused on entrepreneurship and new business start-ups, and which “…has never taken a cent in bailouts from the federal government.” And he made his disgust with Clinton's deregulation of the financial industry very clear.

Roemer opened by encouraging students to adopt his “Four Fs” of success (Fast, Focused, Flexible, and Friendly) in order to succeed in the global economy. Then he then launched into more political and economic themes.

Roemer is no fan of Free Trade; in fact, one of the few times when he appeared angry was in referring to Congressmen who use that term. A frequent world traveler, Roemer told of the 62 days he spent in China, where he witnessed 6-day work weeks of 12-hour work days. At one plant that manufactured fire trucks in Chichin City, he recalled how one working mother had three children tethered on ropes to her waist so she could watch them while she worked. Roemer believes in strong government action in the marketplace to change these conditions around the world, and his support for tariffs punctuated his talk in numerous places. (At one point, he specifically called for a tariff of $10 to $40/barrel on all imported oil in an effort to wean our reliance on foreign oil. After he left the class, several students quickly noted that the immediate result of such an action would not only be higher prices at the pumps for Americans, but it would also permit domestic oil companies to raise their prices to match the tarriffed oil, thus providing a profit windfall for American Oil companies)

As an economist, I wish he could have addressed the Chinese Government’s manipulation of their currency’s value, which is the prime reason for our imbalance of trade with China and which, if corrected, could result in significant new purchases of American goods by the Chinese.

But Roemer’s most strident criticisms came for the special interests and politicians who allow big money to dictate policy in Washington. He called for an end to “Super-PACs,” limitations on the amount of money that PACs and individuals could contribute, prohibitions on permitting lobbyists to raise funds for candidates, and criminal – not civil –penalties for violations.

Echoing a sentiment I have made many times in the classroom, Roemer admitted that most lobbyists “are not bad people…I’ve worked – and argued – with many of them.” But he does recognize that even good people act in their self-interest, with the result that money dictates too much of what happens in elections – and in government.

I appreciated his passion for entrepreneurship. One of my students stated that she was moved by his passion and love of America. His international travel, and his comfort in being neither “too much” of a Republican or “too much” of a Democrat is a refreshing strength in a hyper-polarized society. But while appreciating his concern for the loss of American manufacturing, I think its too late – and too risky – to recklessly slap tariffs on products. One may think that blacksmiths and horses and Underwood typewriters are nostalgic and wonderful, but the fact is, cars and computers are here and aren’t going away. The same is true of much of our manufacturing base. It is a new era.

In his opening statements, he counseled the students that a good business person is “flexible.” Roemer himself showed this in his bank by putting all loan applications online and refusing to open up branch offices; he might want to apply some of that same innovative, flexible thinking to our current unemployment rate, and simply accept the transfer of much of our industry to India and China as a fait accompli. The trick is how to grow new industries at home, not how to bring back what we've lost.

All in all, it was a pleasant visit by a man who his passionate about his country, its economy, and its political system … and, primarily, the problem of money and lawmaking. And that is always good for young people to witness.

One question I would have loved to ask but didnt have the time for: given his disgust with the deregulation of the financial industry, and his recognition of the role that special interests play in politics, I wonder where he stands on the Occupy Wall Street Protest?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Federal Judge rules Patriot Act Provisions Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled today that two provisions of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow search warrants to be issued without a showing of probable cause, thus constituting a violation of the 4th Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizures.

Aiken wrote that the Patriot Act, "...permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.... For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited ..."

The federal government, Aiken continued, was “...asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so."

The case was brought by Portland resident Brandon Mayfield, who was erroneously linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004. Mayfield - possibly targeted because he is a Muslim convert - was taken into custody on May 6, 2004, because of a fingerprint found on a detonator at the scene of the Madrid bombing. The FBI said the print matched Mayfield's. As part the investigation leading to his arrest, secret searches of Mayfield’s home were conducted by the FBI, his home and office were placed under surveillance, and his phone was wiretapped, all without warrants. An internal investigation by the US Justice Department eventually concluded that FBI agents compunded their wrecklessness by making “...inaccurate and ambiguous statements...” to a federal judge to backtrack and get an arrest warrant against Mayfield.

Mayfield was released two weeks later, after the FBI admitted that the fingerprints did not match.

A Justice Department spokesman said the agency was reviewing the court's decision and declined to comment further. The Federal Government has the right to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Candid Trader predicts coming Economic Collapse...



And I just have to add, when it comes to Goldman Sachs, I've said this before right here on this blog:

Goldman Sachs Fradulent History

Monday, September 26, 2011

NYPD: Thugs in Uniforms

Pure Police Brutality. It gets pretty bad by the 3 minute point...
If you're not outraged, then you would have loved Mussolini's Fascist Goons.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

DHS Chemical And Biological Response Unit Surrounding Occupy Wall Street Protesters :

And so, the Fourth Reich rises, in our lifetime, in the Western Hemisphere...

DHS Chemical And Biological Response Unit Surrounding Occupy Wall Street Protesters :

NYPD Corrals, then Pepper Sprays Wall Street Protesters

Last week, we reported on the planned protest on Wall Street by Anonymous and other groups, protesting the growing economic inequality in the nation and the role of the Financial Industry in that phenomenon. For almost an entire week, mainstream media sources have ignored the protests as much as they were able, responsing only to bloggers and tweeters (and Keith Olberman) who wondered why Al Jazeera and BBC were reporting on this growing protest, but not US (and Bloomberg-owned) media sources.

Unable to squash the protest, Media Mogul and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Police force crashed a protest march from Union Square to Wall Street, corralling marchers behind a barrier and then pepper-spraying them in the face. The video below captures the incident, showing the young women who were sprayed falling to the ground, and screaming as the pepper spray hit their eyes.

According to the National Lawyer's Guild, over 100 protesters were arrested Saturday as they carryied banners and chanted "shame, shame" and walked between Zuccotti Park, near Wall St., and Union Square calling for changes to a financial system.

One more notch in the death of Democracy and Constitutional Rights, as the Old Republic becomes Darth's Empire.



UPDATE II: Pepper-Spray Officer has a history: A senior New York police officer accused of pepper-spraying young women on the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations is the subject of a pending legal action over his conduct at another protest in the city.

"The Guardian" reports that the officer, named by activists as deputy inspector Anthony Bologna, stands accused of false arrest and civil rights violations in a claim brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican national convention.
One protester, Jeanne Mansfield – who said she was standing so close to the women sprayed in the face that her own eyes burned – claimed other NYPD officers had expressed disbelief at the actions of the senior officer.

In a vivid account of the incident in the Boston Review, Mansfield said: "A white-shirt, now known to be NYPD Lieutenant Anthony Bologna, comes from the left, walks straight up to the three young girls at the front of the crowd, and pepper-sprays them in the face for a few seconds, continuing as they scream 'No! Why are you doing that?!'"

Despite her attempts to turn away, Mansfield suffered burning and temporary blindness in her left eye.

She continued: "In the street I shout for water to rinse my eyes or give to the girls on the ground. But no one responds. One of the blue-shirts, tall and bald, stares in disbelief and says, 'I can't believe he just fuckin' maced her.'"

UPDATE: Statement from Noam Chomsky to the Protesters:

Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street -- financial institutions generally -- has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world). And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1%, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called "a precariat" -- seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity -- not only too big to fail, but also "too big to jail."

The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course."


Noam Chomsky is Scientist, Linguist and Professor Emeritus at MIT. He is the recipient of Honorary Degrees from 37 institutions around the globe.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Santorum, DADT, and the End of Rational Logic

The Republican Presidential debates now have a well-deserved reputation for attracting the some of the most hateful people America has to offer. In the first debate, audience members cheered the hundreds of executions that have taken place in Texas; at the next debate, several members interrupted Ron Paul to proclaim that sick people without insurance should be allowed to die; and last night the crowd found a collective voice in booing Stephen Hills, an active duty Army soldier dodging bombs and mines in Iraq, for having the audacity to ask the candidates if they would reverse the progress made in eliminating “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

But more exasperating than the audience boos was the illogical, ill-informed, and incoherent answer given by candidate Rick Santorum... which somehow elicited hearty applause from the worked up crowd that was apparently unable to engage in the slightest glimmer of critical thinking.

Santorum’s three critical statements are these:

1) “Any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.”

I’m not sure what he means by this. Is this his way of saying that homosexuals should not serve, since they have a sexual drive? If so, doesn’t that mean that heterosexuals shouldn’t serve in the military either?

Or perhaps he believes that when one enters the military, one embraces complete 100% celibacy, even when one is stationed overseas for years? Does he really believe that forced celibacy - which any monastery or convent will tell you must be strictly reserved for only a tiny, tiny portion of a very unique and committed population – should be imposed on several hundred thousand soldiers – most of whom are in the sexual prime of their twenties?

Is he completely unaware that the single most common medical treatment offered at military bases around the world is the treatment of STDs?
hmmm, how did that happen?! Is he unaware that the most common operation performed by Navy medics at sea are vasectomies? Does he mean to suggest that he would end all treatment for STDs on bases because “sexual activity has no place in the military?” and, therefore, it shouldn’t be allowed, permitted, enabled, or recognized? Does he really believe that? And is he aware that most of these STDs are contracted by heterosexual soldiers? Does he know that bases keep supplies of condoms for them when they go on leave?

Does he think the phrase “red-blooded American boy” had its origins in actual blood color, and that GIs come home virgins? Why does he think that sailors have developed a certain reputation upon hitting port on leave? Or hasn’t he heard?

To the extent that sexual activity is as much a part of the human condition as eating, drinking, and sweating, it actually *does* have a place in the military...and the military knows it far better than Santorum does.

2) “...[repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”] is an attempt to “inject social policy” into military policy]...

Yes, it is, and that is just as our founding fathers hoped it would be, when, in adopting the Declaration of Independence, they criticized King George because he had “rendered the military superior to the civil powers.”

Yes, it is, just like Harry Truman did when he insisted on ending racially segregated barracks and platoons in the military.

Yes it is, just like the military does in recognizing the importance of soldiers spirituality, and providing them with chaplains. Just like when we recognize the importance of families and provide on-base housing for spouses of deployed military members.

Yes it is, just like when we declare that our military’s purpose is nation-building, and protecting one political group from another.

Yes, Rick, that’s all Social Policy, and we do it in the military all day, every day. Get over it.

3) Regarding orientation in uniform, Santorum said: “Keep it to yourself, whether you are heterosexual or homosexual.”

Really? So no one – gay or straight – should name their spouse as beneficiary should they get blown apart, because that would reveal their sexuality. No one should read letters from their spouses to their fellow soldiers, because the masculine and feminine pronouns might give away their orientation. They should never show their family’s pictures, and never share their lover’s successes or heartaches...because in so doing, they are revealing their sexuality, which Santorum believes should be “kept to oneself.”

So, you should live and work with a barracks of your closest friends 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and rely on them (and they on you) for your day to day survival...and never share your hopes and dreams or stories about your spouse or lover.

Unless, of course, you’re heterosexual. Then it’s OK. If you’re homosexual and you do that, you’re flaunting your sexuality and you should just "keep it to yourself.”

Santorum’s platitudes have nothing to do with security, or the best interest of fighting men and women, or with military preparedness or functioning.

Santorum’s positions flow from a deep-seated, personal aversion to sex.

His obsessive reaction against the mere mention of normal, healthy, diverse sexual activity – by his own admission – disgusts him. He doesn’t want to know it exists. He can’t process it. He squirms.

Apparently, simple jealousy of others activities has morphed into hate-filled jealousy of anyone who gets something that he doesn’t – and has now morphed further into outright hatred of sex, of pleasure, of the human condition. He simply can’t handle it. And so he lashes out with these illogical, nonsensical cliches that excite a passionate GOP base, but should quickly lose traction with most thinking Americans.

What a sorry, twisted, pitiful being is the Adamantly Repressed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What the GOP doesn't get about Infrastructure and Taxes



In his last few speeches, President Obama has stressed the fact that many of his current proposals have, in the past, been supported – and even actively promoted – by both Democrats and Republicans. Today’s Republicans, though they may call on the name of Ronald Reagan as if his name was a magical incantation – would be horrified to know that Reagan, by his words and actions, would have agreed with President Obama more than he would have disagreed with him on these issues.

The upgrading and improvement of infrastructure – roads, bridges, ports, intermodal transfer facilities, and rail – was a cornerstone of the 1980 and 1984 Republican campaign platforms. After the economic ‘malaise’ of the 1970s, Buffalo Republican Quarterback-turned-Congressman Jack Kemp articulated a ‘new’ economic policy – one that emphasized government facilitation of business transactions (hence, “Supply” Side Policy," since it was aimed at the suppliers of goods and services rather than the consumers of said services). The theory was that by improving the nation’s infrastructure, businesses would be able to move goods and services in a more efficient, cost-effective manner, thus raising both profit margins and confidence in an economy that was sluggish at best. All one had to do was look at the effect of the Interstate Highway System, authorized under Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, to see the effect on businesses which could now ship goods from Boston to New York in 4 hours rather than two days along the old U.S. Route 1. Fortunately for the Republicans, they garnered the support of many Democrats, who supported the idea not for its effect on business, but because, following traditional Keynesian spending theory, it would put shovels in labor’s hands and put them to work. Intermodal Transit facilities, HOV lanes and E-ZPass all became part of our vocabulary.

By the end of Reagan’s 8 years in office, grants to states for highway and infrastructure construction were 28% higher than when Reagan took office. Jack Kemp and Bronx Democrat Robert Garcia co-introduced federal legislation establishing protocols for Enterprise Zones to revive blighted neighborhoods, making millions of infrastructure project dollars available to states for projects, including parking facilities, rail facilities, and highway interchanges. Even when Reagan wanted to pull back on infrastructure spending, Republicans in the House and Senate turned against him and, with Democratic support, overrode their own President’s veto of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA). This bipartisan policy continued through George H.W. Bush and Clinton, becoming a fixture of the American economic engine…and a piece of economic machinery supported by both political parties.

But somehow, today’s bunch of Republican extremists see this legacy only as “overspending." At a time when both natural disasters and deferred maintenance have destroyed or closed important transportation infrastructure, it is time for them to stop playing politics.

On Tax Policy, Obama has suggested a flattening of the overall tax brackets (part of the 1980, 1984, and 1988 Republican Party Platforms), as well as taxing investment income at the same rate as everyone else’s income. Currently, if you earn $100,000 from working at your job, you pay tax on the full $100,000. However, if you make $100,000 by buying and selling stocks, you only get taxed on 28% of your earnings – or $28,000. In one way, the Republicans are right – Tax policy *has* been used as class warfare: those who labor get taxed, those who sit back and place buy and sell orders with their online broker (and who produce *nothing* for the society) get taxed at far lower levels.

We have subsidized gambling by the wealthy on the backs of the laborer.

The biggest fallacy in the GOPs mock horror at Obama’s proposed tax changes is their assertion that these investments are good for business, and that taxing investment is bad for job creation. But there is nothing to show that those making money off of stock trading are creating jobs. Rather, they are hoarding the funds or simply continuing to trade ever-increasing amounts of wealth to amass more personal wealth.

In reality, most of what qualifies as 'investment’ and ‘capital' is neither. The vast majority of capital gains do NOT come from investing in a business, or from gains of capital provided to a company for expansion. MOST capital gains come simply from stockholders buying and holding stock from other stockholders. Such a purchase provides ZERO additional dollars to a business. It is simply another form of absentee landlord rent-seeking. Such “investors” generally do not participate in the corporations decision-making, governance, hiring, or expansion decisions. They use their wealth to purchase stock in a quick online transaction, follow it for a while (checking the price somewhere during the commercials on Dancing With The Stars), and ignore everything except how their ‘investment’ – which was purchased from another such ‘investor,’ not from the company – is doing. When the time is right, they access their account and hit the sell button…and make instant cash.

They produce nothing. They hire no one. They create nothing. They provide no expansion possibilities for businesses.

But they amass personal wealth. And yet, we treat them with kid gloves by taxing them less, at 28% the rate what we would tax someone who spends all day working and creating valuable goods and services in the economy.

Tax treatment that values gambling over the creation of goods and services, and that values 'wealth making wealth' rather than actual labor, is indeed class warfare, Mr. Boehner. It’s the class warfare that is destroying the middle class and rewarding a cadre of wall street elites that have you in their hip pocket.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Occupy Wall Street" at hand



In a move reminiscent of the final scenes in "Vendetta," a coalition of citizens uniting under the banner of "Occupy Wall Street" will begin rallying at Bowling Green Park tomorrow (Saturday, September 17). The group, which opposes the concept of "corporate personhood," financial industry manipulation of a brutal economy, student loan debt, an avalanche of home foreclosures, and wall street influence in Washington and at the ballot box, intends to begin an open-ended "occupation" of Wall Street. In-depth instructions on civil disobedience, food arrangements, and the encouragement of a 'tent city' have characterized what appears to be a well-organized movement to call attention to the growing economic divide in the United States, as well as corporate influence in politics. The US Dept. of Homeland Security sees the movement seriously enough that last week it sent out security warnings to Wall Street area banks and financial institutions, in spite of the groups insistence that they will only engage in non-violent civil disobedience.

The groups' website, in an update posted three days ago, states

The people coming to Wall Street on September 17 come for a variety of reasons, but what unites them all is the opposition to the principle that has come to dominate not only our economic lives but our entire lives: profit over and above all else. Those that do not embrace this principle: prepare to be out-competed. They will lose the race to the bottom and the vulture will swoop down to feast. It is indicative of a deep spiritual sickness that has gripped civilization, a sickness that drives the vast deprivation, oppression and despoliation that has come to cover the world.

The world does not have to be this way. A society of ruthlessness and isolation can be confronted and replaced with a society of cooperation and community. Cynics will tell us this world is not possible. That the forces arrayed against us have won and will always win and, perhaps, should always win. But they are not gods. They are human beings, just like us. They are a product of a society that rewards the behavior that has led us to where we are today. They can be confronted. What's more, they can be reached. They just need to see us. See beyond the price tags we carry.


The NY City police response should prove quite interesting. On Thursday, September 1, a small group demonstration took place as an intended "test run" for tomorrow's occupation using the "legal encampment" strategy. Nine demonstrators were arrested for disorderly conduct, but were later released without charge.

According to a federal court ruling in 2000, the use of "public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression" is permissible as a protected form of protest and expression on public sidewalks in New York City. METROPOLITAN COUNCIL, INC. VS. HOWARD SAFIR, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, et al., 99 F. Supp. 2d 438; 2000 U.S. Dist. Ct..

The group specifically intends to target Goldman Sachs (gold manipulators extraordinaire, who masterminded the destruction of Ashanti Gold and provides more than their fair share of employees to the Federal Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank); the Securities & Exchange Commission (which is supposed to regulate stock market exchanges); the Federal Reserve (the unaccountable "fourth" branch of Government and personal kingdom of Ben Bernanke); and the New York Stock Exchange.

Friday, September 09, 2011

10 years after 9/11 - My Love Affair with New York City

In 1642, a Dutch ship owner named Bastiaen Van Kortrijk carried a group of settlers to the newly-found colony of Nieuw-Amsterdam. In return for helping to populate the new colony, he was awarded a land grant (or Manor) in what is today called “The Bronx.” His descendents would marry into the Corsa (or Corszen, or DeCoursey) family, who would occupy that land until after the American Revolution, when it was divided and sold off to pay debts (today these lands are better known as Fordham University, the Bronx Botanical Gardens, and the Bronx Zoo.)

The early days of New Amsterdam reflected a spirit of tolerance and diversity that was ground-breaking for its day. Within a decade of its founding, 18 different languages were being spoken in New Amsterdam. The Dutch, in fact, were a minority in their own colony, as Portuguese, free Africans, Germans, French, English, Swedes, Hispanics, native West Indians and Brazilians, Poles, and Bohemians settled the Colony...a far cry from modern nativist cries for an “English-Only!” country. Unlike the strict religious codes of Puritan New England, New Amsterdam guaranteed religious freedom for all, making it a favored destination for immigrating Jews and Quakers. And while the British Crown was guaranteeing a monopoly on all trans-Atlantic Trade for the British East India Company, free global trade was the norm for companies in New Amsterdam.

It’s no wonder that New York Times editorialist Russell Shorto called the people of New Amsterdam, the “UnPilgrims.” Tolerant, diverse, liberal, and commerce-oriented, these people were the founders of New York City…and are the deepest roots of my own family tree.

The Van Kortrijk - Corsa family and their descendents would live though more than 350 years of New York history. They would serve as local guides in George Washington’s army, as the first lithographers at South Street Seaport during the Civil War, and as blacksmiths on the Hyde Park Vanderbilt estate. Three centuries after landing on New York’s shore, my father would be born – where else, but in New York City. He would marry into another local New York family that had, in part, made its mark operating speakeasies during Prohibition – The Riviera, The Chop House, the Lafayette Grill – on Long Island’s south shore in the City of Long Beach. I would be raised not far from there, in Baldwin Harbor, growing up close to the bays and clam flats at a time when living near the canals meant you were on ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ Accordingly, we were known as “Harbor Rats” and “Clamdiggers.”

One of the most enduring institutions on Long Island – the center of our social circle – were the volunteer Fire Departments. My great-grandfather would serve as Chief of Long Beach; my grandfather, Captain of Hose Company #1 in Baldwin; and my father, as Chief. My Uncle would follow him as Chief, and my cousin remains, to this day, an EMT in Brooklyn. The calendar of our lives was comprised of Parades (My sister and I were both in the Fire Department Drum & Bugle Corps), Tournaments, Department picnics and Christmas parties and installation dinners – and punctuated by the anguish of knowing that loved ones were in the middle of buildings aflame almost every day of the year. The sound of the fire alarm put us all on edge in a way that is hard to convey to those who have not lived with the daily risks to a firefighter’s life.

And so it is in that life-context that I watched in horror as the World Trade Center, one of the iconic symbols of New York City, began collapsing on itself – and on the firefighters and fellow New Yorkers trapped inside.

As one of my friends so poignantly reflected some weeks later in a letter, “Not a single neighborhood on Long Island has been untouched.” My best childhood friend would recount to me the horror of running through lower Manhattan – having been late for his appointment at the World Trade Center – as parts of bodies landed around him and on him. My brother-in-laws' (Bill) family, all new york city residents and workers, would take various routes home, including joining thousands walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. Bill, a hospital administrator, was supposed to be in New York City going over architectural plans...but to quote my sister, "..someone called to tell us Bill was back in the hospital preparing for what would never come---survivors." My cousin, the EMT, would lose six men from his company when the South Tower came down.

And I would stand with fellow New York natives where I worked, and watch, and feel helpless.

In the 10 years since that day, I figure that I have been back to NYC perhaps some 50 or 60 times. Each time, as I approach, I get a bit more animated, talk a little bit faster, and smile a little more broadly. Wo-hops in Chinatown, concerts in Central Park, Ty's and Rockbar in The Village, Sici's in Soho, the pace of the Financial District, The Eagle in Chelsea, student hostels in Morningside Heights, Conways in the Garment District, Shows and Bubba Gumps in the Theater District, my old office and Saturday Night Live studios in Rockefeller Center, The Boilerroom and funky vintage shops of the Lower East Side & Alphabet City, taking in the Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park, outside dining and Tiramisu in Little Italy...and pizza everywhere. I can't get enough.

And in those 10 years, I have been back to Ground Zero at least half a dozen times. I cry each time, without fail, and I do not expect that will ever change. Actually, I do more than cry - I fall apart. Yes, it was an attack on the United States, on western civilization, on capitalism, and on freedom. But for me, it was more than that.

It was an attack on MY city. MY home. MY family. Almost 400 years of MY ancestor’s footprints on a city that outshines every other city in the world in its energy, its excellence, its diversity, its drive.

And while others felt they needed to flee New York in the aftermath of 9/11, I had the opposite reaction. Everything in me screamed, No one can f*ck with my city like that and get away with it.!”

I may be currently living in New Hampshire, but I am wrapping that up. Someday – soon - I WILL return to my Home.

As Daddy Warbucks sings in “Annie,”

“What is it about you?
You're big - You're loud - You're tough
N.Y.C. - I go years without you
Then I can't get Enough!

Enough of the cab drivers answering back
In the language far from pure
Enough of frankfurters answering back
Brother, you know you're in NYC…

Too busy, Too crazy…
Too hot, Too cold, Too late, I'm sold
Again, On NYC

….Oh NYC
You make 'em all postcards
You crowd, You cramp…You're still the champ
Amen For NYC

The shimmer of Times Square
The pulse, The beat, The drive!

….Oh, NYC
The whole world keeps coming
By bus, By train, You can't explain
Their yen for NYC

NYC
You're standing room only
You crowd, You cramp
You're still the champ
Amen For NYC

Monday, September 05, 2011

"Labor Day" - or "Capital Day?"


[related, updated post at  Republicans, Democrats AWOL on Taft-Hartley]

The following editorial was written by E. J. Dionne, a native of Fall River, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, a professor at Georgetown University, and an NPR commentator.

In a time when labor is under attack, it is worth a read on this Labor Day weekend....and worth our time, as we prepare to launch a new academic year, to recommit ourselves to support labor's voice and muscle

- Tully


Let’s get it over with and rename the holiday “Capital Day.” We may still celebrate Labor Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil — the phrase itself seems antique — as worthy of genuine respect.

Imagine a Republican saying this: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our friends at Fox News or in the tea party. They’d likely label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor propaganda. Too bad for Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, who offered those words in his annual message to Congress in 1861. Will President Obama dare say anything like this in his jobs speech this week?

As for the unions, they are often treated in the media as advocates of arcane work rules, protectors of inefficient public employees and obstacles to the economic growth our bold entrepreneurs would let loose if only they were free from labor regulations.

So it would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life.”

That’s what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are his) in the 1981 encyclical Laborem exercens. Like Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted “the priority of labor over capital.”

That the language of Lincoln and John Paul is so distant from our experience is a sign of an enormous cultural shift. In scores of different ways, we paint investors as the heroes and workers as the sideshow. We tax the fruits of labor more vigorously than we tax the gains from capital — resistance to continuing the payroll tax cut is a case in point — and we hide workers away while lavishing attention on those who make their livings by moving money around.

Consider that what the media call economics reporting is largely finance reporting. Once upon a time, a lively band of labor reporters covered the world of work and the unions. If you stipulate that the decline of unions makes the old labor beat a bit less compelling, there are still tens of millions of workers who do their jobs every day. But when the labor beat withered, it was rarely replaced by a work beat. Workers have vanished.

But we are now inundated with news (and “news”) about the world of capital. CNBC and the other financial media are for investors what ESPN is for sports junkies. We cheer the markets, learn the obscure language of hedge fund managers, and get to know some of the big investors in off-field interviews. Workers are regarded as factors of production. At best, they’re consumers; at worst, they’re “labor costs” cutting into profits and the sacred stock price.

They have faded away in both high and popular culture, too. Can you point to someone “who makes art out of working-class lives by refusing to prettify them”?

The phrase comes from a 2006 essay by the critic William Deresiewicz who observed that we no longer have few novelists such as John Steinbeck or John Dos Passos who take the lives of working people seriously. Nor do we have television shows along the lines of “The Honeymooners” or even “All in the Family,” which were parodies of an affectionate sort. “First we stopped noticing members of the working class,” Deresiewicz wrote, “and now we’re convinced they don’t exist.”

In his extraordinary book “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class,” Jefferson Cowie spoke of how little we identify working-class people with their labor. “Workers occasionally reappeared in public discourse as ‘Reagan Democrats’ — later as ‘NASCAR Dads,’” he wrote, “or the victims of another plant shutdown or as irrational protectionist and protesters of free trade, but rarely did they appear as workers.”

With the worker disappearing from our media and our consciousness, isn’t it only a matter of time before Labor Day falls off the calendar? As long as it’s there, it should shame us about our cool indifference to the heroism of those who go to work every day.

Copyright 2011 The Herald News.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

What Democrats can do about Obama

A liberal argues that the 2012 Democratic nomination should be debated -- with all options open

(This article by Matt Stoller first appeared 2 hours ago on salon.com)
From the debt ceiling fiasco to the recent rescheduling of a jobs speech at the behest of Speaker Boehner, it has not been a good summer for President Obama. Like Chinese water torture, Gallup's daily tracking poll has shown a steady and unrelenting drip of bad news. He has been in and out of the high 30s for his approval, and in the low to mid-50s for his disapproval.

George W. Bush's approval rating didn't drop this low until Katrina hit. And on the economy, 71 percent of Americans disapprove of how Obama is doing his job. Even among reliably Democratic groups -- union households, women and young people -- he's now unpopular.

No one, not even the president's defenders, expect his coming jobs speech to mean anything. When the president spoke during a recent market swoon, the market dropped another 100 points. Democrats may soon have to confront an uncomfortable truth, and ask whether Obama is a suitable choice at the top of the ticket in 2012. They may then have to ask themselves if there's any way they can push him off the top of the ticket.

That these questions have not yet been asked in any serious way shows how weak the Democratic Party is as a political organization. Yet this political weakness is not inevitable, it can be changed through courage and collective action by a few party insiders smart and principled enough to understand the value of a public debate, and by activists who are courageous enough to face the real legacy of the Obama years.

Obama has ruined the Democratic Party. The 2010 wipeout was an electoral catastrophe so bad you'd have to go back to 1894 to find comparable losses. From 2008 to 2010, according to Gallup, the fastest growing demographic party label was former Democrat. Obama took over the party in 2008 with 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democrats. Within just two years, that number had dropped to 31 percent, which tied a 22-year low.

Of course, there are many rationalizations for Obama to remain the nominee. He's faced difficult opposition. He's passed major legislation. His presidency is historic. The economy is hard to resuscitate. But all such rationalizations evade the party's responsibilities to actually choose the nominee best suited to win votes. If Obama looks unlikely to get enough votes to win, he should not get the nomination.

If would be one thing if Obama were failing because he was too close to party orthodoxy. Yet his failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.

So why isn't there a legitimate primary challenger to Obama to make this case? Forty years ago, primaries were instituted in the Democratic Party as a response to party insiders having too much influence over nominations. These reforms were implemented before the prevalence of money in politics was as extreme as it is now. At this point, primary challenges are so expensive that a serious 2012 campaign would ironically require support of party insiders for viability. The party, inflexible as it was in 1968, is perhaps even more rigid today. As a result, no candidate has stepped up to challenge Obama in a primary, even though 32 percent of Democratic voters want one.

This is an institutional crisis for Democrats. The groups that fund and organize the party -- an uneasy alliance of financiers, conservative technology interests, the telecommunications industry, healthcare industries, labor unions, feminists, elite foundations, African-American church networks, academic elites, liberals at groups like MoveOn, the ACLU and the blogosphere -- are frustrated, but not one of them has broken from the pack. In remaining silent, they give their assent to the right-wing policy framework that first George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, cemented in place. It will be nearly impossible to dislodge such a framework without starting within the Democratic Party itself.

In other words, party inflexibility has a price. If the economy worsens going into the fall, and the president continues as he has to attempt to cut Social Security, Democrats might be facing a Carter-Reagan scenario. Reagan, at first considered a lightweight candidate, ended up winning a landslide victory that devastated the Democratic Party in 1980. Carter wasn't the only loss; many significant liberal senators, such as George McGovern, John Culver and Birch Bayh, fell that year.

Today, it's clear that certain Democratic constituency groups -- unions especially -- are on their deathbed. A reinvigoration of debate over the nature of the American workplace is desperately needed, yet labor leaders seem to prefer supplicating quietly to politicians who betray them. This is not inevitable. People can show dignity.

So what can party leaders do? History offers one model. In 1892, the Democratic Party nominated Grover Cleveland, and with sweeping majorities in both houses, Democrats had control of the federal government for the first time since before the Civil War. Then a financial crisis, plus Cleveland's stubborn allegiance to banking interests, turned his presidency into a catastrophe for Democrats.

When taking state candidates into account, the 1894 midterm elections were comparable to the 2010 wipeout; Cleveland was disliked so ardently that party leaders pushed him out of running for reelection. Instead the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, who introduced many populist themes into the party and began the ideological transformation that would culminate with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. If a few of the key constituency groups in the Democratic Party publicly wondered whether Obama should run for reelection, rumblings would start. Some organized constituency groups -- say some components of the AFL-CIO -- would need to announce that their support is up for grabs, based on a clear set of criteria. Given the Obama administration's rampant anti-labor policies, this wouldn't be an unreasonable posture. And then a senior politician, like, say, a Tom Harkin, would need to decide that he would want to encourage robust intra-party debate about the party's future.

Harkin could run as a "favorite son" of Iowa, and encourage people in the caucuses to send a message to the party and to Obama by choosing him. Other candidates could then emerge in early primary and caucus states, as a way of repudiating Obama's leadership. Candidates wouldn't have to pretend to be running for president or be presidential quality; they could simply stand in as favorite sons or daughters of their own geographic area. This would immediately fire up a highly aggressive and needed debate about the direction of the Democratic Party and the country at large. It would build a new set of leaders, and elevate others who would like to distance themselves from the Obama policy agenda.

In a few months, we'll know better if Obama still looks like a loser next year. If he does, that does not mean the Democratic Party must follow him down the path to oblivion.

For Obama, the die is cast. He has put forward his economic program, and it will work to return jobs and income, and get the votes, or it won't. Knocking on doors won't change that, nor will a donation in a $6 billion election season. What can change the reality of 2012 is if Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, begins to take his job of representing workers seriously, and one or two establishment Democrats who remember liberalism decide to model courage for the younger generation. Then a robust debate can happen. Only by shaking up the current political order will solutions emerge.

Such debates tend to create institutional reforms -- the vibrant antiwar blogosphere of 2002-2006, and eventually the Obama campaign itself, emerged out of such a series of debates. Such a debate would also force the Obama campaign to come up with some answers to questions it would prefer to defer until after the election: Where are the jobs, and what is the plan to stop foreclosures? It would allow millions of Americans who have been hurt -- and who have benefited -- from administration policies, to have their say.

I wish I could say I was optimistic that party leaders will step forward and start the debate Democratic voters need. As for many, the last few years have shattered my faith in the political process. Obama has basically endorsed every major plank of George Bush's administration, yet Democrats still grant their approval. What we're finding out is that Obama's pathologically pro-establishment and conflict-averse DNA was funded by party insiders and embraced by liberal constituency groups in 2008 for a reason.

Political parties need to be flexible enough to allow for new ideas to come into the process, or else third parties or civil disorder are inevitable. All it would take to provide this flexibility are well-known Democratic elders who understand that rank and file Democrats deserve a choice, and a few political insiders who realize that they can increase their own power by encouraging a robust debate. I don't think this will happen. But just imagine if it did.

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. His twitter feed is @matthewstoller and he can be reached at stoller at gmail.com.