Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Money Masters

The Rich Say the Funniest Things: Laughing Until You Die of Hunger

The Rich Say the Funniest Things: Laughing Until You Die of Hunger

With 99% of America standing up to them, the super-rich probably don't feel very funny right now. But they have a history of humorous statements, as demonstrated by Mitt Romney's reference to Occupy Wall Street as "class

Yes, Mitt, class warfare has been waged since 1980, as almost
all of America's new income has gone to the richest 1%, who have tripled
their share, mainly through tax cuts and deregulation. If the average
American family had just kept up with U.S. productivity, it would be
making almost DOUBLE what it is now.

More conservative humor can be found in the statement "Don't tax the rich
- they're job creators," which ignores the fact that the total
unemployment/underemployment rate has increased from 15% to 30% in just
five years while middle-class household wealth has dropped 36%.

Then there's the notion of downtrodden rich people. Someone making
"$200,000 is not a rich person,"stated Barbara Lang, president of the D.C.
Chamber of Commerce. "$500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if
there is no bonus," said James F. Reda, director of a compensation
consulting firm. "In some parts of the country," $250K "is middle class,"
suggested CNN reporter Kiran Chetry.

While the rich are just getting by, the poor, according to some
conservatives, are doing quite well. "What are they complaining about?"
asked CNN's Carol Costello, citing a Heritage Foundation study that
suggested poor Americans were reasonably comfortable. Sen. Orrin Hatch
(R-Utah) claimed that "The poor...need to share some of the
responsibility." Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger got right to the
point: the poor should just "suck it up and cope."

Taxes, while usually not funny, bring out the best in corporate
spokespeople. Like Anne Eisele of General Electric, which paid no taxes
from 2008 to 2010: "G.E. is committed to acting with integrity in relation
to our tax obligations...GE did not pay US federal taxes last year because
we did not owe any." And Ken Cohen of Exxon Mobil, which paid 2% in taxes
from 2008 to 2010: "Any claim we don't pay taxes is absurd...ExxonMobil is
a leading U.S. taxpayer." And John Watson of Chevron, part of an industry
with the lowest federal tax rate: "The oil and gas industry pays its fair
share in taxes" And Paul Ryan on Boeing, which paid no U.S. taxes on over
$4 billion of income in 2010: "Their tax rate is extremely high, far
higher than their competitors.

Next is the Orwellian "war is peace" humor, as in the claim by Mitch
McConnell and Mitt Romney that tax cuts increase revenue and help to
reduce the deficit. And the contention by Mackubin Thomas Owens of the
Foreign Policy Research Institute that high gas prices cause low gas
prices (because of the increased incentive to open up new drilling sites).

Finally, this writer's personal favorite, full-delusional humor. Lloyd
Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, assures us that "Everybody
should be, frankly, happy...the financial system led us into the crisis
and it will lead us out."

It's all so funny it hurts.

Who is the 'one percent' rich in USA?

Who is the 'one percent' rich in USA?

Fortune 500 has issued a list of S&P 500 companies along with their 2010 financial details. Along with American billionaires and millionaires, the 500 companies are believed to form a main part of the “One Percent” rich in America. Recent anti-Wall Street protesters blame the One Percent for their desperate economic situation.

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Who is the One Percent in America?

The following are the largest full-service global investment banks which usually provides both advisory and financing banking services, as well as the sales, market making, and research on a broad array of financial products including equities, credit, rates, currency, commodities, and their derivatives.

1. Bank of America
2. Barclays Capital
3. Citigroup
4. Credit Suisse
5. Deutsche Bank
6. Goldman Sachs
7. JPMorgan Chase
8. Morgan Stanley
9. Nomura Securities
10. UBS
11. Wells Fargo Securities

Diversified Financials

The following are the top eight diversified financials in the U.S. in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Fannie Mae .......... $153.82 billion
2. General Electric .......... $151.62 billion
3. Freddie Mac .......... $98.36 billion
4. INTL FCStone ........... $46.94 billion
5. Marsh & McLennan ........... $10.93 billion
6. Ameriprise Financial .......... $10.04 billion
7. Aon .......... $8.51 billion
8. SLM .......... $6.77 billion

Commercial Banks

The following are the top ten commercial banks in the U.S. in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Bank of America Corp. .......... $134.19 billion
2. JP Morgan Chase & Co. .......... $115.47 billion
3. Citigroup .......... $111.05 billion
4. Well Fargo .......... $93.24 billion
5. Goldman Sachs Group .......... $45.96 billion
6. Morgan Stanley .......... $39.32 billion
7. American Express .......... $30.24 billion
8. US Bancorp .......... $20.51 billion
9. Capital One Financial .......... $19.06 billion
10. Ally Financial .......... $17.37 billion

Petroleum Refining

The following are the top ten U.S. petroleum refining firms in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Exxon Mobil .......... $354.67 billion
2. Chevron .......... $196.33 billion
3. Conoco Philips .......... $184.96 billion
4. Valero Energy .......... $86.03 billion
5. Marathon Oil .......... $68.41billion
6. Sunoco .......... $35.54 billion
7. Hess .......... $34.61 billion
8. Murphy Oil .......... $23.34 billion
9. Tesoro .......... $20.25 billion
10. Holly .......... $8.32 billion

Oil & Gas Equipment, Services

The following are the top U.S. firms active in oil and gas equipment and services in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Halliburton .......... $17.97 million
2. Baker Hughes .......... $14.41 million
3. National Oilwell Varco .......... $12.15 million
4. Cameron International .......... $6.13 million

Aerospace & Defense

The following are the top ten U.S. corporations in aerospace and defense in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Boeing ........... $64.30 billion
2. United Technologies .......... $54.32 billion
3. Lockheed Martin ........... $46.89 billion
4. Northrop Grumman .......... $34.75 billion
5. Honeywell International ........... $33.37 billion
6. General Dynamics .......... $32.46 billion
7. Raytheon .......... $25.18 billion
8. L-3 Communications .......... $15.68 billion
9. ITT .......... $11.15 billion
10. Textron .......... $10.52 billion

Motor Vehicles & Parts

The following are the top ten U.S. manufacturing companies of motor vehicles and parts in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. General Motors .......... $135.59 billion
2. Ford Motor .......... $128.95 billion
3. Chrysler Group .......... $41.94 billion
4. Johnson Controls .......... $34.30 billion
5. Goodyear Tire & Rubber .......... $18.83 billion
6. TRW Automotive Holdings .......... $14.38 billion
7. Navistar International .......... $12.14 billion
8. Lear .......... $11.95 billion
9. Paccar .......... $10.29 billion
10. Oshkosh .......... $9.84 billion

American Millionaires

The number of Americans who are millionaires is about one percent of the population. NPR

Of the 435 members of the House, 244 current members of Congress are millionaires - that's about 46 percent and that includes 138 Republicans and 106 Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics. In fact, there are probably many more millionaires in Congress, since lawmakers don't have to include the value of their family home and other details. NPR

In 2010, the average winner of a House race spent $1.5 million for his/her campaigns. The average Senate winner spent close to $10 million. Closely contested races are much more expensive. And about half of that money, on average, comes from an elite group of very wealthy donors. NPR

Wealthy Americans have more access to lawmakers than most regular voters and constituents do, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. NPR

The median net worth for a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives was $725,000 in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and the media net worth of a U.S. Senator was $2.4 million. Open Secrets

The richest member of Congress is Darrel Issa, whose net worth was valued between $156 million and $451 million. Open Secrets

Here is a list of the 20 wealthiest current members of Congress and their average net worth, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, based on their financial reports covering calendar year 2009. (The Center plans to unveil its analysis of lawmakers' 2010 financial disclosures later this fall.) Open Secrets

1. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) .......... $303 million
2. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) .......... $238 million
3. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) .......... $174 million
4. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) .......... $160 million
5. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) .......... $160 million
6. Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.) .......... $148 million
7. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) .......... $137 million
8. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) .......... $109 million
9. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) .......... $98 million
10. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) .......... $94 million
11. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) .......... $77 million
12. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) .......... $76 million
13. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) .......... $58 million
14. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) .......... $51 million
15. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) .......... $50 million
16. Rep. Diane Lynn Black (R-Tenn.) .......... $49 million
17. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) .......... $43 million
18. Rep. Richard Berg (R-N.D.) .......... $39 million
19. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) .......... $39 million
20. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) .......... $38 million

Top Donors to Obama in 2008

The following table lists the top donors to Barack Obama in the 2008 election cycle. Open Secrets

1. University of California .......... $1.6 million
2. Goldman Sachs .......... $1 million
3. Harvard University .......... $0.85 million
4. Microsoft Corp. .......... $0.83 million
5. Google Inc. .......... $0.80 million
6. Citigroup Inc. ........... $0.70 million
7. JPMorgan Chase & Co. .......... $0.69 million
8. Time Warner .......... $0.59 million
9. Sidley Austin LLP .......... $0.58 million
10. Stanford University .......... $0.58 million
11. National Amusements Inc. .......... $0.55 million
12. UBS AG .......... $0.54 million
13. Wilmerhale Llp .......... $0.54 million
14. Skadden, Arps et al .......... $0.53 million
15. IBM Corp .......... $0.52 million
16. Columbia University .......... $0.52 million
17. Morgan Stanley .......... $0.51 million
18. General Electric .......... $0.49 million
19. U.S. Government .......... $0.49 million
20.Latham & Watkins .......... $0.49 million

Top Donors to Bush in 2004

1. Morgan Stanley .......... $603,480
2. Merrill Lynch .......... $586,254
3. PricewaterhouseCoopers .......... $514,250
4. UBS AG .......... $474,325
5. Goldman Sachs .......... $394,600
6. Lehman Brothers .......... $361,525
7. MBNA Corp .......... $350,350
8. Credit Suisse Group .......... $326,040
9. Citigroup Inc. .......... $320,820
10. Bear Stearns .......... $313,150
11. Ernst & Young .......... $305,140
12. US Government .......... $295,786
13. Deloitte LLP .......... $292,250
14. Wachovia Corp. .......... $279,310
15. US Dept of Defense .......... $279,157
16. Ameriquest Capital .......... $253,130
17. US Dept of State .......... $225,330
18. Blank Rome LLP .......... $225,150
19. Bank of America .......... $218,261
20.AT&T Inc. .......... $214,920

American Billionaires

The following is a list of top 20 American billionaires issued by the Forbes 400 in 2011. Forbes

1. Bill Gates from Microsoft .......... $59 billion
2. Warren Buffet from Berkshire Hathaway .......... $39 billion
3. Larry Ellison from Oracle .......... $33 billion
4. Charles Koch from diversified .......... $25 billion
5. David Koch from diversified .......... $25 billion
6. Christy Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $24.5 billion
7. George Soros from hedge funds .......... $22 billion
8. Sheldon Adelson from casinos .......... $21.5 billion
9. Jim Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $21.1 billion
10. Alice Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $20.9 billion
11. S. Robson Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $20.5 billion
12. Michael Bloomberg from Bloomberg LP .......... $19.5 billion
13. Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com .......... $19.1 billion
14. Mark Zuckergerg from Facebook ........... $17.5 billion
15. Surgey Brin from Google .......... $16.7 billion
16. Larry Page from Google .......... $16.7 billion
17. John Paulson from hedge funds ........... $15.5 billion
18. Michael Dell from Dell .......... $15 billion
19. Steve Ballmer from Microsoft .......... $13.9 billion
20.Forrest Mars from candy .......... $13.8 billion

Bernie Sanders calls for bank boycott

Bernie Sanders calls for bank boycott

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) doubled down on his anti-Wall Street rhetoric over the weekend, encouraging protesters to withdraw money from the major banks and calling the financial industry “the most powerful, dangerous and secretive” institution in the United States.

“People might want to think about going to your local community bank and withdrawing funds from these large institutions,” Sanders said in tweet on Sunday.

Later Sunday night, the tweet was replaced with a toned-down version of the same proposal:
“[People might choose to move their money out of the large banks and into local community banks or credit unions.]”

The Vermont senator has been a vocal supporter of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, but these latest comments were his sharpest to date. In a string of tweets leading up to his call for a run on the banks, Sanders offered ideas he says would “change the system to work for all Americans, not just the top one-percent,” including a Wall Street speculation fee and a cap on credit card interest rates.

Sanders continued criticizing the financial industry on Monday, both in an editorial at Roll Call and to a newspaper in his home state.

"I think the protesters deserve a whole lot of credit in focusing attention on Wall Street, which in my view, is the most powerful, dangerous, secretive major institution in the United States of America. And the more we learn about Wall Street, the more we learn about their reckless and illegal behavior, the better off we will be," Sanders told the Vermont Reformer on Monday.

"There is a lot to be said about people coming together at the grassroots level at this time. A lot of people are hurting, we are in the worst recession since the 1930s and this was caused by the greed and recklessness of Wall Street. And what the protesters are doing every day is reminding us of that reality," he added. 

Monday marks the one-month anniversary for the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have spread to cities all over the world and led to more than 800 arrests in the United States.

Questions linger over why CIA operative is at NYPD

Questions linger over why CIA operative is at NYPD

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Working inside the New York Police Department is one of the CIA's most experienced clandestine operatives. He arrived in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. While his title is clear, his job responsibilities are not.

Federal and city officials have offered differing explanations for why this top CIA officer was assigned to a municipal police department since The Associated Press revealed the assignment in August. The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically, and its unusual partnership with the NYPD has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.

The last time a CIA officer worked so closely with the NYPD, beginning in the months after the 9/11 attacks, he became the architect of aggressive police programs that monitored Muslim neighborhoods. With that earlier help from this CIA official, the police put entire communities under a microscope based on ethnicity rather than allegations of wrongdoing, according to the AP investigation.

It was an extraordinary collaboration that at times troubled some senior CIA officials and may have stretched the bounds of how the CIA is allowed to operate in the United States.

The arrangement surrounding the newly arrived CIA officer, who was at the center of one of the worst U.S. intelligence fiascos in recent history, has been portrayed differently from that of his predecessor. When first asked by the AP, a senior U.S. official described the posting as a sabbatical, a program aimed at giving the man in New York more management training.

Testifying at City Hall recently, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the CIA operative provides his officers "with information, usually coming from perhaps overseas." He said the CIA operative provides "technical information" to the NYPD but "doesn't have access to any of our investigative files."

Citing a presidential order authorizing the CIA to assist local law enforcement, Kelly said: "Operating under this legal basis, the CIA has advised the police department on key aspects of intelligence gathering and analysis that have greatly benefited our counterterrorism mission and protected lives in New York City."

CIA Director David Petraeus has described him as an adviser, someone who could ensure that information was being shared.

But the CIA already has someone with that job. At its large station in New York, a CIA liaison shares intelligence with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, which has hundreds of NYPD detectives assigned to it. And the CIA did not explain how, if the adviser doesn't have access to NYPD files, he's getting management experience in a division built entirely around collecting domestic intelligence.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, mischaracterized him to Congress as an "embedded analyst" - his office later quietly said that was a mistake - and acknowledged it looked bad to have the CIA working so closely with a police department.

On Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the arrangement.

"We live in a dangerous world. There are people trying to kill us. And if the CIA can help us I'm all for getting any information they have and then letting the police department use it as - if it's appropriate to protect you and to protect me," he said.

All of this has troubled lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has said the CIA has "no business or authority in domestic spying, or in advising the NYPD how to conduct local surveillance."

"It's really important to fully understand what the nature of the investigations into the Muslim community are all about, and also the partnership between the local police and the CIA," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Still, the undercover operative remains in New York while the agency's inspector general investigates the CIA's decade-long relationship with the NYPD. The CIA has asked the AP not to identify him because he remains a member of the clandestine service and his identity is classified.

The CIA's deep ties to the NYPD began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when CIA Director George Tenet dispatched a veteran officer, Larry Sanchez, to New York, where he became the architect of the police department's secret spying programs.

While still on the agency payroll, Sanchez, a CIA veteran who spent 15 years overseas in the former Soviet Union, South Asia, and the Middle East, instructed officers on the art of collecting information without attracting attention. He directed officers and reviewed case files.

Sometimes, officials said, intelligence collected from NYPD's operations was passed informally to the CIA.

Sanchez also hand-picked an NYPD detective to attend the "Farm," the CIA's training facility where its officers are turned into operatives. The detective, who completed the course but failed to graduate, returned to the police department where he works today armed with the agency's famed espionage skills.

Also while under Sanchez's direction, documents indicate, the NYPD's Cyber Intelligence Unit, which monitors domestic and foreign websites, conducted training sessions for the CIA.

Sanchez was on the CIA payroll from 2002 to 2004, then took a temporary leave of absence to become deputy to David Cohen, a former senior CIA officer who became head of the NYPD intelligence division just months after the 9/11 attacks.

In 2007, the CIA's top official in New York complained to headquarters that Sanchez was wearing two hats, sometimes operating as an NYPD official, sometimes as a CIA officer. At headquarters, senior officials agreed and told Sanchez he had to choose.

He formally left the CIA, staying on at the NYPD until late 2010. He now works as a security consultant in the Persian Gulf region.

Sanchez's departure left Cohen scrambling to find someone with operational experience who could replace him. He approached several former CIA colleagues about taking the job but they turned him down, according to people familiar with the situation who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the department's inner workings.

Cohen then persuaded the CIA to send the current operative to be his assistant.

He arrived with an impressive post-9/11 resume. He had been the station chief in Pakistan and then Jordan, two stations that served as focal points in the war on terror, according to current and former officials who worked with him. He also was in charge of the agency's Counter Proliferation Division.

But he is no stranger to controversy. Former U.S. intelligence officials said he was nearly expelled from Pakistan after an incident during President George W. Bush's first term. Pakistan became enraged after sharing intelligence with the U.S. only to learn that the CIA station chief passed the information to the British.

Then, while serving in Amman, the station chief was directly involved in an operation to kill al-Qaida's then-No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. But the plan backfired badly. The key informant who promised to lead the CIA to al-Zawahiri was in fact a double agent working for al-Qaida.

At least one CIA officer saw problems in the case and warned the station chief but, as recounted in a new book "The Triple Agent" by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, the station chief decided to push ahead anyway.

The informant blew himself up at a remote CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009. He killed seven CIA employees, including the officer who had warned the station chief, and wounded six others. Leon Panetta, the CIA director at the time, called it a systemic failure and decided no one person was at fault.

FDA Allowed Unsafe Seafood Onto Market After BP Oil Spill Disaster

FDA Allowed Unsafe Seafood Onto Market After BP Oil Spill Disaster

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A study accuses the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of allowing seafoods with unsafe levels of contaminants to enter the food chain after the BP oil disaster. A study carried out by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Perspective reports that the FDA underestimated the risk of cancer from accumulated contaminants in the seafood - especially the risk for pregnant mothers and children who live in the area.

In some cases, the FDA let through foods with 10,000 times too much contamination. The federal Agency is also accused of not identifying the risks for children and pregnant mothers. It appears the FDA used faulty assumptions and obsolete risk assessment methods.

The NRDC has today filed a petition urging the FDA to set limits on PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that can be present in seafood. It is vital that the country's pregnant mothers, children, and individuals with high seafood consumption be protected, the NRDC added.

BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico - (NASA's Terra satellite on May 24, 2010)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons are powerful atmospheric pollutants, consisting of fused aromatic rings that contain no heteroatoms or carry substituents. The simplest form of PAH is naphthalene. PAHs can be found in tar deposits, coal and oil; they are also produced as a by-product of burning fossil or biomass fuels.

PAHs are of concern to human health because some of their compounds have been linked to cancer risk - there is also talk of their mutagenic (can cause genes to mutate) and teratogenic (can cause birth defects) harms. PAHs may be present in cooked foods - cooking meat at very high temperature, such as barbecuing or grilling can raise their PAH levels. Smoking fish may also have a similar effect. PAHs can also cause liver damage.

FDA underestimated risks to pregnant mothers and children

One of the researchers, Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, said:

"Our findings add to a long list of evidence that FDA is overlooking the risks from chemical contaminants in food. We must not wait for people to get sick or cancer rates to rise, we need FDA to act now to protect the food supply."

The authors of the study concluded:

"FDA risk assessment methods should be updated to better reflect current risk assessment practices and to protect vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children."

In her blog, Rotkin-Ellman wrote that the FDA had calculated that 123,000 micrograms of naphthalene per kg of shrimp was a safe level for human consumption. According to the calculations of her team, the limit should have been 5.91 micrograms if pregnant women and children who eat a lot of seafood are to be protected. Even for non-pregnant adults, they worked out that the safe limit should only be 46.99 micrograms of naphthalene per kg of shellfish.

According to the scientists calculations, if 1,000 pregnant women and their children consumed Gulf seafood with contamination limits set by the FDA, 20 of the children born to those women would be at considerable risk of cancer caused by the contamination.

Rotkin-Ellman wrote:

"This is not public health protection. Major reforms are needed at FDA to better safeguard our food supply."

When Rotkin-Ellman and team gathered data on testing of PAH levels of shellfish after the BP oil spill, they found that up to 53% of the tested shrimps had PAH levels above their own revised safety limits for pregnant mothers and children (who eat a lot of shellfish).

Rotkin-Ellman added:

"Instead of saying it was safe for everyone to eat, pregnant women and children should have been warned and advised to reduce their Gulf shellfish consumption."

The scientific team say they have been concerned about this issue for some time. They could not understand how the FDA had deviated so much from the guidelines of other agencies and even its own prior practice after previous oil spills.

To find out why, they asked the FDA for documents under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). After a year of non-stop wrangling to get the appropriate documents, through the FOIA request, they discovered that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had proposed stricter health protections from contamination - these proposals were ignored. Even some FDA staff, apparently, said the protections should be stronger.

In an email, the EPA told the FDA that it underestimated the risks for many seafood consumers, particularly those living on the Gulf Coast.

The Tax Hikes That Republicans Love

The Tax Hikes That Republicans Love

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From the tea parties to the corporate boardrooms to the presidential debate platforms, we hear a familiar droning whine about taxes—except the angry message is no longer simply that taxes are too high. Today, conservative politicians and pundits complain instead that some people, namely those too poor to owe federal income taxes, aren’t paying enough. So what if those people can scarcely sustain their families, like the millions of middle-class families doing slightly better but struggling, as well?

This is the Democratic “fairness” argument turned upside down, which may prove to have limited appeal. What will appeal to most Americans even less are the proposed Republican solutions, like a national sales tax. And what might surprise them is that the first president to expand tax relief for the working poor was that almighty Republican icon, Ronald Reagan, whose name is constantly invoked by politicians unworthy of his legacy.

However piously they cite the Gipper as their idol, the Republican candidates for president seem united in their desire to repeal the earned income tax credit, which he justly praised in 1986 as “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”

Now, Republican politicians increasingly reject the earned income credit as an immoral form of “welfare,” because its provisions have helped to ensure that roughly 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, with the poorest receiving a modest rebate, instead. That statistic has been distorted all too often into the false assertion, usually uttered on Fox News Channel or right-wing talk radio, that the poorer half of the nation’s population “pays no taxes.”

Of course the working poor pay lots of taxes. In fact, they tend to pay more as a share of their income than the very rich, plenty of whom do not work at all. The poor pay state and local income tax as well as sales taxes, gas taxes and utility taxes, but above all they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on the very first dollar of income they earn (and on every dollar up to the $106,000 ceiling that shelters the income of higher earners). To suggest that the working poor receive government benefits without paying anything is a brazen lie.

Aside from the earned income credit, there is another very basic reason why the working poor don’t pay income taxes. After decades of falling wages and rising inequality, they literally cannot afford it. As the noted economics reporter David Cay Johnston explained last April 15, the average annual income among the bottom half of American taxpayers was around $15,000. With the first $9,350 exempt from federal income tax for single people, a figure that rises to $18,700 for married couples, millions of households don’t earn enough to owe anything to the IRS.

At the same time, Johnston pointed out that many of the wealthiest families in the country also pay no taxes thanks to loopholes such as the “carried interest” provision, which Republicans fight ferociously to preserve against “socialist” demands that bankers and investors pay the same rate as their secretaries and janitors.

Although polls show that most Americans—including most Republican voters—strongly favor raising rates on the wealthiest taxpayers, the GOP leadership is sworn to prevent any such reform. Rather than close the grossest loopholes and deductions exploited by billionaires, Republican politicians want to punish all those families living large on $300 a week by taxing them more.

One way to do that—favored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis, and presidential candidate Herman Cain, among others—is to impose a national sales tax or value-added tax.

The result, as any tax expert could explain, would shift the national tax burden even further from the wealthy to the working poor and middle class. It is their form of class warfare. And unless the rates were much higher than proposed in Cain’s “9-9-9” plan or Ryan’s original budget, a sales tax would increase deficits and debt instead of reducing them.

Why millionaires like Ryan and Cain favor such schemes is obvious enough. What is far less obvious is why they can still pretend that they revere Reagan—or that they want to cut taxes for anybody except themselves.

A Movement Too Big to Fail

A Movement Too Big to Fail

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Demonstrators with the Occupy DC protests march through Washington, October 15, 2011. In dozens of cities around the world on Saturday, people took to the streets as part of a planned day of protests against the financial system. (Photo: Philip Scott Andrews / The New York Times)

There is no danger that the protesters who have occupied squares, parks and plazas across the nation in defiance of the corporate state will be co-opted by the Democratic Party or groups like MoveOn [4]. The faux liberal reformers, whose abject failure to stand up for the rights of the poor and the working class, have signed on to this movement because they fear becoming irrelevant. Union leaders, who pull down salaries five times that of the rank and file as they bargain away rights and benefits, know the foundations are shaking. So do Democratic politicians from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi. So do the array of “liberal” groups and institutions, including the press, that have worked to funnel discontented voters back into the swamp of electoral politics and mocked those who called for profound structural reform.

Resistance, real resistance, to the corporate state was displayed when a couple of thousand protesters, clutching mops and brooms, early Friday morning forced the owners of Zuccotti Park and the New York City police to back down from a proposed attempt to expel them in order to “clean” the premises. These protesters in that one glorious moment did what the traditional “liberal” establishment has steadily refused to do—fight back. And it was deeply moving to watch the corporate rats scamper back to their holes on Wall Street. It lent a whole new meaning to the phrase “too big to fail.”

Tinkering with the corporate state will not work. We will either be plunged into neo-feudalism and environmental catastrophe or we will wrest power from corporate hands. This radical message, one that demands a reversal of the corporate coup, is one the power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart. But the liberal class has no credibility left. It collaborated with corporate lobbyists to neglect the rights of tens of millions of Americans, as well as the innocents in our imperial wars. The best that liberals can do is sheepishly pretend this is what they wanted all along. Groups such as MoveOn and organized labor will find themselves without a constituency unless they at least pay lip service to the protests. The Teamsters’ arrival Friday morning to help defend the park signaled an infusion of this new radicalism into moribund unions rather than a co-opting of the protest movement by the traditional liberal establishment. The union bosses, in short, had no choice.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, like all radical movements, has obliterated the narrow political parameters. It proposes something new. It will not make concessions with corrupt systems of corporate power. It holds fast to moral imperatives regardless of the cost. It confronts authority out of a sense of responsibility. It is not interested in formal positions of power. It is not seeking office. It is not trying to get people to vote. It has no resources. It can’t carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars of advertisements. All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back. It has no other way of defying the corporate state. This rebellion creates a real community instead of a managed or virtual one. It affirms our dignity. It permits us to become free and independent human beings.

Martin Luther King was repeatedly betrayed by liberal supporters, especially when he began to challenge economic forms of discrimination, which demanded that liberals, rather than simply white Southern racists, begin to make sacrifices. King too was a radical. He would not compromise on nonviolence, racism or justice. He understood that movements—such as the Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists, who fought for women’s rights, the labor movement and the civil rights movement—have always been the true correctives in American democracy. None of those movements achieved formal political power. But by holding fast to moral imperatives they made the powerful fear them. King knew that racial equality was impossible without economic justice and an end to militarism. And he had no intention of ceding to the demands of the liberal establishment that called on him to be calm and patience. “For years, I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions in the South, a little change here, a little change there,” King said shortly before he was assassinated. “Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire system, a revolution of values.”

King was killed in 1968 when he was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers. By then he had begun to say that his dream, the one that the corporate state has frozen into a few safe clich├ęs from his 1963 speech in Washington, had turned into a nightmare. King called at the end of his life for massive federal funds to rebuild inner cities, what he called “a radical redistribution of economic and political power,” a complete restructuring of “the architecture of American society.” He grasped that the inequities of capitalism had become the instrument by which the poor would always remain poor. “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism,” King said, “but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” On the eve of King’s murder he was preparing to organize a poor people’s march on Washington, D.C., designed to cause “major, massive dislocations,” a nonviolent demand by the poor, including the white underclass, for a system of economic equality. It would be 43 years before his vision was realized by an eclectic group of protesters who gathered before the gates of Wall Street.

As the world rises up against economic injustice, Truthout brings you the latest news and analysis, free of corporate influence. Help support this work with a tax-deductible donation today. [5]

The truth of America is understood only when you listen to voices in our impoverished rural enclaves, prisons and the urban slums, when you hear the words of our unemployed, those who have lost their homes or cannot pay their medical bills, our elderly and our children, especially the quarter of the nation’s children who depend on food stamps to eat, and all who are marginalized. There is more reality expressed about the American experience by the debt-burdened young men and women protesting in the parks than by all the chatter of the well-paid pundits and experts that pollutes the airwaves.

What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens who live below the poverty line? What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to save their sons and daughters? What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates? What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators? What kind of nation is it that ignores due process to torture and assassinate its own citizens? What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?

“America,” Langston Hughes wrote, “never was America to me.”

“The black vote mean [nothing],” the rapper Nas intones [6]. “Who you gunna elect/ Satan or Satan? In the hood nothing is changing,/ We aint got no choices.”

Or listen to hip-hop artist Talib Kweli: “Back in the ’60s, there was a big push for black … politicians, and now we have more than we ever had before, but our communities are so much worse. A lot of people died for us to vote, I’m aware of that history, but these politicians are not in touch with people at all. Politics is not the truth to me, it’s an illusion.”

The liberal class functions in a traditional, capitalist democracy as a safety valve. It lets off enough steam to keep the system intact. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. This is what happened during the Great Depression and the New Deal. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism. Liberals in a functioning capitalist democracy are at the same time tasked with discrediting radicals, whether it is King, especially after he denounced the war in Vietnam, or later Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader.

The stupidity of the corporate state is that it thought it could dispense with the liberal class. It thought it could shut off that safety valve in order to loot and pillage with no impediments. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And the reduction of the liberal class to silly courtiers, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, meant that the growing discontent found other mechanisms and outlets. Liberals were reduced to stick figures, part of an elaborate pantomime, as they acted in preordained roles to give legitimacy to meaningless and useless political theater. But that game is over.

Human history has amply demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet retain the trappings and privileges of power, they are brutally discarded. The liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state, has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. And as the engines of corporate power pollute and poison the ecosystem and propel us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded by both the corporate state and radical dissidents. The best it can do is attach itself meekly to the new political configuration rising up to replace it.

An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope of a correction or a reversal through the formal mechanisms of power. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression now in these protests that lie outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. By emasculating the liberal class, which once ensured that restive citizens could institute moderate reforms, the corporate state has created a closed system defined by polarization, gridlock and political charades. It has removed the veneer of virtue and goodness that the liberal class offered to the power elite.

Liberal institutions, including the church, the press, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts and labor unions, set the parameters for limited self-criticism in a functioning democracy as well as small, incremental reforms. The liberal class is permitted to decry the worst excesses of power and champion basic human rights while at the same time endowing systems of power with a morality and virtue it does not possess. Liberals posit themselves as the conscience of the nation. They permit us, through their appeal to public virtues and the public good, to see ourselves and our state as fundamentally good.

But the liberal class, by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did, severed itself from the roots of creative and bold thought, the only forces that could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. The liberal class, which at once was betrayed and betrayed itself, has no role left to play in the battle between us and corporate dominance. All hope lies now with those in the street.

Liberals lack the vision and fortitude to challenge dominant free market ideologies. They have no ideological alternatives even as the Democratic Party openly betrays every principle the liberal class claims to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy to a demand for quality and affordable public education to a return of civil liberties to a demand for jobs and welfare of the working class. The corporate state forced the liberal class to join in the nation’s death march that began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Liberals such as Bill Clinton, for corporate money, accelerated the dismantling of our manufacturing base, the gutting of our regulatory agencies, the destruction of our social service programs and the empowerment of speculators who have trashed our economy. The liberal class, stripped of power, could only retreat into its atrophied institutions, where it busied itself with the boutique activism of political correctness and embraced positions it had previously condemned.

Russell Jacoby [7] writes: “The left once dismissed the market as exploitative; it now honors the market as rational and humane. The left once disdained mass culture as exploitative; now it celebrates it as rebellious. The left once honored independent intellectuals as courageous; now it sneers at them as elitist. The left once rejected pluralism as superficial; now it worships it as profound. We are witnessing not simply a defeat of the left, but its conversion and perhaps inversion.”

Hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion, language that has been purged from the lexicon of the liberal class, language that defines this new movement. This does not mean we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class, but we have to learn again to speak in the vocabulary Marx employed. We have to grasp, as Marx and Adam Smith did, that corporations are not concerned with the common good. They exploit, pollute, impoverish, repress, kill and lie to make money. They throw poor families out of homes, let the uninsured die, wage useless wars to make profits, poison and pollute the ecosystem, slash social assistance programs, gut public education, trash the global economy, plunder the U.S. Treasury and crush all popular movements that seek justice for working men and women. They worship money and power. And, as Marx knew, unfettered capitalism is a revolutionary force that consumes greater and greater numbers of human lives until it finally consumes itself. The dead zone [8] in the Gulf of Mexico is the perfect metaphor for the corporate state. It is part of the same nightmare experienced in postindustrial mill towns of New England and the abandoned steel mills of Ohio. It is a nightmare that Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghans, living in terror and mourning their dead, endure daily.

What took place early Friday morning in Zuccotti Park was the first salvo in a long struggle for justice. It signaled a step backward by the corporate state in the face of popular pressure. And it was carried out by ordinary men and women who sleep at night on concrete, get soaked in rainstorms, eat donated food and have nothing as weapons but their dignity, resilience and courage. It is they, and they alone, who hold out the possibility of salvation. And if we join them we might have a chance.

How #OccupyWallStreet is evolving and gaining power

How #OccupyWallStreet is evolving and gaining power

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Now in its third week, the protest movement not only continues to grow – it is maturing and becoming stronger in impressive ways, writes Mark Engler.

Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence
Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence

What started as a few hundred independent activists gathering for a protest on Wall Street, and a few dozen having the resolve to extend their demonstration by camping out in Manhattan’s financial district, has become something much bigger. It has become the embodiment of longstanding progressive hopes that Americans who have been hit hard by the economic crisis – those left jobless, in debt, underemployed, foreclosed, or insecure – would finally get mad enough to publicly vent their outrage at the oligarchs who have for too long perverted our democratic politics and created gross inequality in our country.

The movement is rapidly spreading to cities around the US – to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC, among many others. And it has progressed in some very promising respects. Here are three:

1. The demand problem has been solved

Throughout the first couple of weeks of the action, the question of whether #OccupyWallStreet had clear enough demands was constantly raised, both by progressive commentators and in the mainstream media coverage the mobilization was receiving. This issue has ceased to be a serious problem because, as the protests have grown, their central focus has become significantly more defined.

As the protests have grown, their central focus has become significantly more defined

During the first week, there was a real problem: when you had just a few dozen people at occupied Liberty Plaza, individual idiosyncrasies stood out. If several of the protesters were Ron Paul libertarians or were obsessed with eliminating the Federal Reserve, another few were 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and several others, when asked by reporters, responded by saying, ‘We don’t believe in demands,’ you ended up with a bona fide messaging crisis.

But that is no longer the situation. The mobilization has now drawn thousands of people who have rallied behind the call of ‘We Are the 99 Percent’.

MoveOn.org summed it up this way: ‘What do the protesters want? A solution to the jobs crisis, corporate money out of politics, fairer tax rates, and policies that work for 99% of Americans instead of the 1% at the top.’

But you don’t have to take one organization’s word for it. Go to the ‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Tumblr. Read the incredibly moving personal testimonials presented there. Then tell me this protest does not have a message.

For observers who want more specific grievances or detailed policy proposals, declarations now abound, ranging from bold and inclusive statements issued by Wall Street protesters themselves via their general assembly to more modest reform manifestos offered, with only a wee bit of condescension, by figures such as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Photo by Paul S under a CC Licence
Photo by Paul S under a CC Licence

Critics who remain preoccupied with the demand issue are missing the point. As Betsy Reed has smartly noted in the Nation, well-formulated lists of proposals do not guarantee that your actions will be taken seriously. (Anyone remember ‘The May 12 Coalition’ or ‘One Nation Working Together’? Not too many people do, despite strong organization and tight messaging.) Conversely, actions such as #OccupyWallStreet that effectively capture the public imagination and inspire participation despite vague demands can contain great promise – and should be celebrated for the potential they offer.

Ultimately, the movement’s outcry against corporate power is no more diffuse than the Tea Party’s denunciation of ‘big government’. Protesters do not need to hash out exactly what percentage the capital gains tax rate should be, or precisely how many millions of dollars in student debt should be forgiven, in order for them to have an impact. Like the Tea Party, a broad social movement uprising can do much to alter the climate of public opinion, something that can benefit many different progressive campaigns in the medium to long term. Indeed, many who are running more targeted campaigns (with more narrow and winnable goals) are productively linking up with the mobilization. Which is a second promising development:

2. The occupation has drawn together an amazing coalition

When it started, #OccupyWallStreet was made up of students and independent activists who responded to a call to action that was initially put out by Adbusters but that enjoyed very limited institutional backing. The major organized constituencies of the left – unions, community groups, environmentalists, faith-based organizations and the like – were not part of the mobilization. This was a problem, suggesting that the protests might not have significant reach and would have limited resources at their disposal.

Yet as the actions have gained momentum, the institutional groups have come. Across the US, all sorts have flocked to support #OccupyWallStreet, including but not limited to MoveOn.org and other major organizations associated with the American Dream Movement. In New York City, major unions have declared their support for #OccupyWallStreet, and a veritable Who’s who of labour and community organizations are marching to the financial district to show their solidarity.

A broad social movement uprising can do much to alter the climate of public opinion, something that can benefit many different progressive campaigns in the medium to long term

In just one amazing display of unity among many, the city’s Transit Workers Union (TWU) issued a blistering condemnation of the NYPD this past weekend after police, in the process of arresting some 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge, commandeered three public buses and forced TWU members to transport their captives. ‘TWU Local 100 supports the protesters on Wall Street and takes great offense that the mayor and NYPD have ordered operators to transport citizens who were exercising their constitutional right to protest – and shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,’ the union president said.

3. The movement is becoming an umbrella for economic justice causes across the US

As the movement spreads nationwide, #OccupyWallStreet is becoming a unifying umbrella under which people outraged about corporate greed can get involved in supporting any number of ongoing efforts to create living-wage jobs, end foreclosures and predatory lending practices, hold banks accountable, get corporate money out of politics, and otherwise promote economic justice and genuine democracy. Much as the Tea Party has served as an overarching brand for conservative discontent, #OccupyWallStreet is giving people the opportunity to identify with a national struggle while advancing causes relevant to their local communities.

As the movement spreads nationwide, #OccupyWallStreet is becoming a unifying umbrella and giving people the opportunity to identify with a national struggle while advancing causes relevant to their local communities

In Boston, community groups doing anti-foreclosure actions at Bank of America were able to merge their efforts with #OccupyBoston demands. Likewise, #OccupyLA joined with the United Teachers of Los Angeles in a bank protest during one of its first days in existence. Organizers who have been working on anti-corporate campaigns for months or years now are starting to benefit from the new energy – and new media attention – afforded by a movement that is now seen as a national phenomenon. #OccupyWallStreet, in turn, benefits whenever greater numbers of local drives identify with their overarching effort, when their coalition is broadened, and their credibility as a national force is reinforced by the local buy-in.

The potential for expanding this type of solidarity is great, and it is likely that more groups will be linking up their campaigns in the days and weeks to come. Fortunately, #OccupyWallStreet, which has already made some remarkable strides, is evolving still.

An Intesne moment of TRUTH with MAINSTREAM Media

I AM NOT MOVING - Short Film - Occupy Wall Street

Kucinich Report, The FACTS on the Trade Agreements

ome foreclosure proceedings on the rise again

Home foreclosure proceedings on the rise again

California and other Western states see the largest increase in banks' beginning the foreclosure process on homes.

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After months of a foreclosure slowdown caused by investigations into improper practices, the nation's home-repossession machinery is beginning to move again — particularly in states such as California where courts don't oversee the process.

The number of homes entering the foreclosure process surged 19% in the third quarter compared with the previous quarter in states where foreclosures take place largely outside of the courtroom, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine information firm. These nonjudicial states include California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.

That increase was higher than in the so-called judicial states, which include New York and Florida, where the number of homes entering foreclosure increased 9%.

"[The banks] are generally working through more of these loans, but the places where they can file the most quickly are going to be the nonjudicial states," said Celia Chen, a housing economist with Moody's Analytics.

The increase in new foreclosure proceedings comes as talks over a broad foreclosure settlement by state attorneys general with the nation's five largest mortgage servicers have experienced setbacks. California recently stepped out of those discussions, declaring it would pursue its own path.

New York, Delaware, Nevada, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Minnesota also have signaled that they were unhappy with the direction of negotiations because they say the legal release from liability being offered to the banks is too broad. New York and Delaware have been cooperating in their own probes separate from the coalition.

Nationally, foreclosure activity — from the default notices that begin the process to seizures of homes — was up slightly in the third quarter, reversing three quarters of declines.

Banks filed actions on 610,337 properties in the third quarter, an increase of less than 1% from the previous quarter but 34% below the same quarter a year earlier. Analysts expect foreclosures to pick up in coming months.

While the number of homes entering foreclosure picked up in the third quarter, those repossessed by banks continued to decline. U.S. home repossessions were down 4% from the prior quarter and were down 32% from the same quarter a year earlier.

Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, said banks were probably waiting for some kind of negotiated settlement before finally beginning to take back homes at a faster clip.

"If the banks had their way, they'd be foreclosing at a much more brisk pace," Cecala said.

Wall Street Occupation Went From Protest to Providing Services Now Bloomerg Is Trying to Tear it All

Occupy Wall St. Prepares for Crackdown -- Will Bloomberg Try to Tear It All Down?

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"If Bloomberg really cared about sanitation here he wouldn't have blocked portapotties and dumpsters."

On Thursday afternoon Occupy Wall Street called an emergency General Assembly down at Liberty Plaza to deal with the announcement that Friday will see a cleanup of the park by the City, starting at 7 am. Representatives of Brookfield, the company that owns the park, said in the clean-up notice that everything left behind will be thrown away. On Thursday it was also revealed that Brookfield had sent a letter to police commissioner Ray Kelly asking the NYPD help clear out the protestors. A group of New York civil liberties lawyers warned the CEO of Brookfield that forcing protestors from the park violates their first amendment rights, stating, "Under the guise of cleaning the Park you are threatening fundamental constitutional rights. There is no basis in the law for your request for police intervention, nor have you cited any. Such police action without a prior court order would be unconstitutional."

The densely packed crowd is aware that reports are circulating that they will not be allowed to bring any gear back into the park after it's been cleaned, and they are discussing next steps.

"We have been self-governing and self-organized and taking care of our space," the woman facilitating the GA calls through the people's microphone earlier today. "Today we clean to call their bluff." The sanitation team is calling for all hands to clean the park, and indeed all morning volunteers have been picking up trash with gloved hands. The willingness of the protesters to embrace such tasks is part of the reason they’ve been successful in camping out for nearly a month.


Occupy Wall Street, as many have noted, isn’t just a protest, it’s a reclamation of public space, a new commons for people who feel left out and left behind by the current system. Arun Gupta, editor of the Indypendent and one of those who helped create the Occupied Wall Street Journal newspaper, says, “You have this uncommodified radical public space right in the heart of global capital. There is no money being exchanged, and that's remarkable in a city that is kind of the height of the idea that we exist to consume.”

He points out that the people claimed the space, and from there came up with the idea of the “We are the 99 percent” slogan that has taken hold across the country. “The mere presence itself,” in the square, he notes, “became almost the politics of it. It's through the space that we can bring real democracy into being.”

Symbolically snatching that space back just shouting distance from the New York Stock Exchange and holding on to it would be protest enough, but inside that space the protesters guilt a model for the communities they’d like to see. They created infrastructure, and the infrastructure they chose to build stands in stark contrast to the hacking and slashing at public infrastructure spending done over the last 30 or so years and rapidly accelerated in the age of austerity.

“People who couldn't afford food or health care, that's no longer the case. They can come here and get what they need,” says Red, a street medic at the medical station. “It's probably my favorite part of this movement.”

Red explains that the medical station is staffed by anywhere from five to 12 people at a time, some of whom are EMTs or trained medics, others are nurses or doctors. “We have five or six doctors that rotate in and out,” he says, “They work for free, sometimes they stay up all night.”

The medical station can't provide every bit of health care that people might need, of course—it's hardly set up for surgery or treatment of serious illnesses. But they're surprisingly well stocked, with donations from 1199 SEIU and the National Nurses United as well as supplies bought with cash donations. In a country that still balks at the idea of “socialized medicine,” having a place where one can get a free doctor visit is all too rare.

It's not just health care and free food that the occupiers are modeling in the park, it's everything from greener lifestyle techniques to support for arts and books.


The People's Library might be the most impressive structure in the park. It's now extended from the concrete benches along one wall onto tables, and the books have been stickered, labeled, and had their barcodes scanned and cataloged onto the web. This, as libraries across the US face budget cuts and closure.

“Our working group has 15 or 20 people,” Betsy Fagin, a Brooklyn librarian who is currently not working, tells me. Instead, she spends her days at Liberty Plaza, labeling and cataloging books, and her nights working on the online catalog. “We have a librarian in Indiana who is cataloging online for us,” she notes. As of Tuesday, Oct. 11, the library had around 400 records, and more donations are coming in all the time.(That's Day 25 of the occupation, according to a board that also provides a weather report, a donations count of more than $40,000 and an arrest count of 834-plus.)

On Tuesday, as I make my way through the park, there's a sign declaring the Arts and Culture space, and a man carrying a “Roving Help Desk” sign. A man with a broom and dustpan is sweeping up, and another scuttles to bring paper towels to wipe up some coffee that's spilled a bit too near some sleeping bags.

solar panel truck

Over the weekend, the computers throughout the plaza (at the media station as well as the “Internet cafe” and phone charging station) were powered not by the generators that have kept them going most of the time, but by a solar panel-laden truck brought up by Greenpeace.

Robert Gardner, whose business card describes him as a “Coal Campaigner” for the organization, explains, “It's a two-kilowatt array on the truck, which rolls down. I'd take up the whole street if I could,” gesturing to the panels. It provides 50 kilowatt-hours of storage, he tells me, and can provide for the energy use of an average American home—or for several laptop computers and cell phones as well as a few lights that stay on as the late-night crowd works. Greenpeace normally uses the truck as a campaign tool to demonstrate clean energy, he says, but they heard the occupation was using gas generators and came up to donate clean power and lend their support.

That's not the only way the occupation is modeling more earth-friendly technologies. The kitchen, which now has several racks of dishes and supplies, has created agray water system to filter the water used to wash the dishes before using it to water the plaza's flowers.

Grey water system

It's not just the New York occupation that is creating institutions to provide care. Jamieson Robbins, who has been involved with Occupy Dallas and Occupy Fort Worth in Texas, tells me:

“The experience that I've had with my 3-year-old daughter out at Occupy Dallas and now Occupy Fort Worth has been nothing short of fantastic. Several days before our first march, discussion began on OccupyDallas.org about children being involved. Many people felt that having children present at our march was a liability and many were waiting to see how it goes before bringing out their young ones.

"I, and many others, thought about it a little differently. I think people should involve their families, their friends, their co-workers, their neighbors, but most of all their children. What are we fighting for if not for the chance to one day answer the question, 'Grandma, what was Occupy Wall Street?' with 'It was the beginning of change, my love. The country wasn't always the way it is now.' Not only that, but what a fantastic statement to onlookers to see not just hippies and anarchists, but families with their children's futures at stake.

“Now, I'm proud to say that Occupy Dallas, even under threat from city council to either buy a million-dollar insurance policy or face eviction, has set up a permanent 'Occuplay' child center within Pioneer Park.”

The shifting, growing infrastructure at the occupations around the country is taking shape differently in different places.

Street medic Red says, “It really restores your faith that there's some level of decency left in our culture.”

And it appears to be exactly what will be targeted by the mayor, the police, and the wealthy park owners. The infrastructure is exactly what makes Occupy Wall Street different from other protest actions, and by cleaning the park and trying to dismantle that infrastructure they're attempting to reduce the occupation's symbolic power.

"We are now creating a society that we envision for the world. Being responsible for ourselves is as the heart of that," the People's microphone rumbles.

Toxins All around Us

Toxins All around Us

Exposure to the chemicals in everyday objects poses a hidden health threat

Cuppa disrupters: Chemicals in disposable cups may mimic hormones Image: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images


Susan starts her day by jogging to the edge of town, cutting back through a cornfield for an herbal tea at the downtown Starbucks and heading home for a shower. It sounds like a healthy morning routine, but Susan is in fact exposing herself to a rogue’s gallery of chemicals: pesticides and herbicides on the corn, plasticizers in her tea cup, and the wide array of ingredients used to perfume her soap and enhance the performance of her shampoo and moisturizer. Most of these exposures are so low as to be considered trivial, but they are not trivial at all—especially considering that Susan is six weeks pregnant.

Scientists have become increasingly worried that even extremely low levels of some environmental contaminants may have significant damaging effects on our bodies—and that fetuses are particularly vulnerable to such assaults. Some of the chemicals that are all around us have the ability to interfere with our endocrine systems, which regulate the hormones that control our weight, our biorhythms and our reproduction. Synthetic hormones are used clinically to prevent pregnancy, control insulin levels in diabetics, compensate for a deficient thyroid gland and alleviate menopausal symptoms. You wouldn’t think of taking these drugs without a prescription, but we unwittingly do something similar every day.

An increasing number of clinicians and scientists are becoming convinced that these chemical exposures con­tribute to obesity, endometriosis, diabetes, autism, allergies, cancer and other diseases. Laboratory studies—mainly in mice but sometimes in human sub­jects—­have demonstrated that low levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in­duce subtle changes in the developing fetus that have profound health effects in adulthood and even on subsequent generations. The chemicals an expecting mother takes into her body during the course of a typical day may affect her children and her grandchildren.

This isn’t just a lab experiment: we have lived it. Many of us born in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were exposed in utero to diethylstilbestrol, or DES, a synthetic estrogen prescribed to pregnant women in a mistaken attempt to prevent miscarriage. An article in the June issue of the New England Journal of Medicine called the lessons learned about the effects of fetal human exposures to DES on adult disease “powerful.”

In the U.S., two federal agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, are responsible for banning dangerous chemicals and making sure that chemicals in our food and drugs have been thoroughly tested. Scientists and clinicians across diverse disciplines are concerned that the efforts of the EPA and the FDA are insufficient in the face of the complex cocktail of chemicals in our environment. Updating a proposal from last year, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced legislation this year to create the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. If enacted, chemical companies would be required to demonstrate the safety of their products before marketing them. This is perfectly logical, but it calls for a suitable screening-and-testing program for endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The need for such tests has been recognized for more than a decade, but no one has yet devised a sound testing protocol.

Regulators also cannot interpret the mounting evidence from laboratory studies, many of which use techniques and methods of analysis that weren’t even dreamed of when toxicology testing protocols were developed in the 1950s. It’s like providing a horse breeder with genetic sequence data for five stallions and asking him or her to pick the best horse. Interpreting the data would require a broad range of clinical and scientific experience.

That’s why professional societies representing more than 40,000 scientists wrote a letter to the FDA and EPA offering their expertise. The agencies should take them up on it. Academic scientists and clinicians need a place at the table with government and industry scientists. We owe it to mothers everywhere, who want to give their babies the best possible chance of growing into healthy adults.

A New Bush Era or a Push Era?

A New Bush Era or a Push Era?

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Back when Barack Obama was still just a U.S. senator running for president, he told a group of donors in a New Jersey suburb, “Make me do it.” He was borrowing from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used the same phrase (according to Harry Belafonte, who heard the story directly from Eleanor Roosevelt) when responding to legendary union organizer A. Philip Randolph’s demand for civil rights for African-Americans.

While President Obama has made concession after concession to both the corporate-funded tea party and his Wall Street donors, now that he is again in campaign mode, his progressive critics are being warned not to attack him, as that might aid and abet the Republican bid for the White House.

Enter the 99 percenters. The Occupy Wall Street ranks continue to grow, inspiring more than 1,000 solidarity protests around the country and the globe. After weeks, and one of the largest mass arrests in U.S. history, Obama finally commented: “I think people are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.” But neither he nor his advisers—or the Republicans—know what to do with this burgeoning mass movement.

Following the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows unlimited corporate donations to support election advertising, the hunger for campaign cash is insatiable. The Obama re-election campaign aims to raise $1 billion. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the financial industry was Obama’s second-largest source of 2008 campaign contributions, surpassed only by the lawyers/lobbyists industry sector.

The suggestion that a loss for Obama would signal a return to the Bush era has some merit: The Associated Press reported recently that “almost all of [Mitt] Romney’s 22 special advisers held senior Bush administration positions in diplomacy, defense or intelligence. Two former Republican senators are included as well as Bush-era CIA chief Michael Hayden and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.” But so is the Obama presidency an expansion of the Bush era, unless there is a new “Push era.”

The organic strength of Occupy Wall Street defies the standard dismissals from the corporate media’s predictably stale stable of pundits. For them, it is all about the divide between the Republicans and the Democrats, a divide the protesters have a hard time seeing. They see both parties captured by Wall Street. Richard Haass, head of the establishment Council on Foreign Relations, said of the protesters, “They’re not serious.” He asked why they are not talking about entitlements. Perhaps it is because, to the 99 percent, Social Security and Medicare are not the problem, but rather growing inequality, with the 400 richest Americans having more wealth than half of all Americans combined. And then there is the overwhelming cost and toll of war, first and foremost the lives lost, but also the lives destroyed, on all sides.

It’s why, for example, Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, was down at Occupy Wall Street on Monday night. He told me: “It’s no secret that a lot of veterans are facing unemployment, homelessness and a lot of other issues that are dealing with the economy. A lot of people get deployed multiple times and are still struggling. … I’ve met a lot of veterans who have come here. I just met a guy who is active duty, took leave just to come to Occupy Wall Street.”

The historic election of Barack Obama was achieved by millions of people across the political spectrum. For years during the Bush administration, people felt they were hitting their heads against a brick wall. With the election, the wall had become a door, but it was only open a crack. The question was, would it be kicked open or slammed shut? It is not up to one person. Obama had moved from community organizer in chief to commander in chief. When forces used to having the ear of the most powerful person on earth whisper their demands in the Oval Office, the president must see a force more powerful outside his window, whether he likes it or not, and say, “If I do that, they will storm the Bastille.” If there’s no one out there, we are all in big trouble.

Banking Has Become an Oligopoly Instead of a Competitive Business And That's Really Bad News for Us

Banking Has Become an Oligopoly Instead of a Competitive Business -- And That's Really Bad News for Us 99%

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Some folks have responded to Bank of America's announcement of a new $5 per month fee on debit cards with a glib, "If you don't like it, just pick another bank. It's a free market, baby!" They say that competition will punish BofA for its evil ways.

Sounds easy enough. Except for one small problem.

Banking is not really a competitive industry. In reality, it's more like an oligopoly -- a scenario in which an industry is controlled by a small number of firms. An oligopoly is a lot like a monopoly, where one firm controls the whole show. Only in an oligopoly, you have two or more firms calling the shots, and they love to do things contrary to the notion of a free market, like, say, colluding to raise prices. There are a few common signs that tell you when competition has left the building in a given industry. See if any of these look familiar.

Concentration of Power

The last time big banks blew up the economy, causing the Great Depression, they got broken up. Tight regulation protected small banks, so they could get in on the action. But a massive trend of consolidation in the industry starting in the mid-'80s shrank the total number of banks in the United States as bigger banks gobbled up little ones. Result? The biggest banks control a larger and larger share of deposits.

Concentration of deposits is one measure -- perhaps the best measure -- of competition in the banking industry. The number of depository organizations in the U.S. fell from 15,416 in 1984 to 8,191 in 2001, a drop of 46.9 percent. The share of deposits held by the biggest five banks swelled to 23 percent in 2001 from just 9 percent in 1984. Sound like a competition-driving trend to you?

If you think 23 percent is a big piece of the pie, consider this: In June 2008, before the Lehman collapse, the share of deposits held by the five biggest banks had soared to 37 percent. And the figure has only risen since then. By 2009, the top five banks (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and PNC) boasted nearly 40 percent of all deposits. They got all these deposits not because they did a great job and offered amazing service (BofA is notorious for low rates on deposits), but because they ate up smaller banks. That's how I, once a customer of Marine Midland Bank, became a customer of the megabank HSBC.

This increasing concentration of deposits suggests that banks have been getting steadily less competitive over the last 30 years. Which allows nasty things to happen.

For example, when Bank of America decided to charge customers for using a debit card, an activity that actually saves them money on processing checks, they performed a maneuver common in oligopolies, known as "price leadership." In this form of tacit collusion, the lead dog in the industry announces a price increase, signaling to the other big dogs that it's cool for them to do the same. In this case, if the other dogs don't place fees on debit cards, they'll find another way to get the dough so that they keep pace with the leader. In the last couple of weeks -- as though by an invisible hand -- you may have received a letter from your bank noting some "changes." Maybe there's a new fee for using your line of credit account. Maybe your checking account is no longer free. Or maybe your bank will charge more for using ATMs. These "changes" mean only one thing: price hikes.

Cost v. Returns

Another telltale feature of oligopolies is a yawning gap between the cost of performing a service or making a product and how much a firm charges for it and gets to profit by it.

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase warned us that if regulators tried to prevent the banks from charging certain kinds of fees, they would find the money elsewhere, just like a restaurant might charge more for the burger if it can't charge for the soda. To follow the logic of Dimon's restaurant analogy, if you don't like how much a restaurant is charging for the burger, you just cruise down to the diner around the block. Problem solved.

What Mr. Dimon doesn't want you to realize is that the restaurant industry and the banking industry are quite different. Bank of America is not Joe's Burger Joint. The diner sets a price for its burger based on the cost of the food and the cost of turning it into a burger, serving it to you, cleaning up, paying the electric bill, advertising, etc. In the restaurant industry, food costs are generally about 35 percent of the price of an item you see on the menu. If Joe's tasty burger costs $10, then you could expect that the meat, bun and condiments cost $3.50. The rest goes to cover the other costs and a slender margin for profit. According to the National Restaurant Association, a restaurant makes about 4 cents on every dollar you spend.

The industry is highly competitive, and restaurants fail all the time, most within their first year of operation. Survivors need a sound business plan, good management, and products that consumers want to buy and don't make them barf. The gap between costs and what restaurants charge must be small, or else you'll head to Bill's Burger Heaven.

But the banking industry operates in a different universe. Charges for products and services and the costs of those products and services often have very little relation to each other. As commercial litigator Lloyd Constantine helpfully points out, banks were challenged by an antitrust lawsuit back in 1996 for charging dubious fees to stores for debit card transactions. They were forced to drop the fee from 63 cents per transaction to 43 cents -- a fee Constantine says the Fed knew was still much too high. When ATM cards were first used at stores as debit cards, at first there was no fee because getting rid of checks was hugely profitable for banks. But, as Constantine puts it, "Bank of America, Chase and their Visa/MasterCard partners wanted to have their burgers and eat them, too." When Dodd-Frank Act ordered the Fed to find out whether the banks could justify high fees on the basis of the costs of processing debit card transactions, the Fed concluded that banks were grossly overcharging: "After initially deciding that debit interchange fees should be lowered from 44 cents to 7 to 12 cents, the Fed, in yet another huge handout to big banks, revised the fee range to 21 to 24 cents."

This is what the big banks are screaming about. They can only charge 21- 24 cents for something that should only cost 7-12 cents. Because they aren't really a competitive industry, they can get away with huge cost v. returns gaps.

Risk of Failure

In a free market, businesses fail; 33 percent of all new businesses fail within the first six months. Fifty percent of new businesses fail within their first two years of operation and 75 percent fail within the first three years. They fail for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they had a stupid business plan. Maybe they were underfunded. Or they weren't cost competitive. Or their management sucked. Whatever the reason, they fail. One day the business is there, and the next day it's gonzo.

Again, the banking industry sails right past this free market logic.

We're all familiar with the term "Too Big To Fail," which sums up what happens nowadays to the biggest banks even when they commit fraud against consumers, poison them with toxic products, grossly neglect their duties to shareholders, and blow up the economy. They are rescued with public money. Yours and mine! That doesn't happen to Joe's Burger Joint. If Joe's restaurant had a management team that made stupid business decisions, picked customers' pockets, and sold burgers that made you throw up, then Joe would probably see a padlock on his door before too long.

But bad management at a bank seems to have no repercussions except enormous payouts. Just ask recently booted BofA execs Sallie Krawcheck and Joseph Price. The bank gave Krawcheck a severance package that includes a year's salary of $850,000 plus a payment of $5,150,000. Price got $850,000 and a payment of $4,150,000. BofA CEO Brian Moynihan took over from Ken Lewis, an exceptionally crappy bank manager who exited the door with $125 million in his pocket. Moynihan has been defending his bank's debit card decision and making a lot of noise about his loyalty to shareholders and customers and his bank's "right to make a profit." Former bank regulator Bill Black isn't feeling sympathetic, though, crisply observing that "it was Moynihan's incompetence and moral blindness that allowed BofA to commit tens of thousands of felonies in the course of foreclosing through perjury on those who were often the victims of Countrywide's underlying fraudulent mortgages."

Moynihan collects a $2 million annual salary. As a base.

The BofA chief also has the nerve to serve up whoppers about how Dodd-Frank regulation is responsible for his bank's losses, but Black isn't buying that burger. He calls Moynihan's claim "false and pathetic," noting that "endemic criminal conduct by BofA in the mortgage foreclosure process, combined with the massive accounting fraud inherent in Countrywide's operations combined to cause a loss of slightly over 60 percent to BofA shareholders."

Right. So given that the idea of a free market in the banking industry is bunk, what's a Bank of America customer to do? It's not like you can live normally without a bank. Unfortunately, as Black wrote me in an email, the choices are not pretty at this time. His advice:

First, anyone with BofA stock should sell it. Second, there is no good route for the depositor. Third, as a customer, i.e., for a mortgage loan or debit card, go elsewhere. Fourth, interest/fees on credit cards are far bigger for most consumers, so their focus should be on their credit cards. Pay off as much as possible of your high interest rate credit card debt as soon as possible and change to a credit card company with lower interest rates/fees (comparison shop on the web).

So there you have it. You do what you can. But with that said, it still seems reasonable to take your money out of the biggest banks that caused the financial crisis and are still harming the economy by not lending, doling out huge bonuses, and screwing customers. The alternative is to find a credit union or small bank, if for no other reason than to give your support to local businesses and to invest in Main Street. You might even end up with fewer fees. The Move Your Money campaign, the brainchild of Arianna Huffington, economist Rob Johnson and filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, offers guidance in picking an institution that's safe.

How hard is this? Well, I'm about to find out, because I'll be taking my money out of HSBC and finding a smaller bank. I'll let you know how it goes.