As the Occupy Wallstreet movement continues to grow around the country and with the majority of americans agreeing with the protesters, the 1% who controls nearly half of our nation’s wealth are starting to get antsy. Eric Cantor canceled a speech he was going to give about how income inequality isn’t really a big deal after he found out it would be open to the public (those icky icky poors were planning on attending). And Paul Ryan did a whole lot of double speak about about the dangers of moderate policy. Many conservatives still claim that in America, it doesn’t matter if you are born the son of a banker in Manhattan or the daughter of an unemployed mother of 5 in the Ozarks, if you work hard you’ll do just fine. But a new study shows what most of us already know, that upward mobility or as many call it, The American Dream, is in most cases, not realistic.
And that’s really why the Occupiers are so mad. It’s not that someone else got rich, it’s that they have so little control over their own destiny. After years of school and tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, all they have to show for it is a part time job at the mall, while the people who already have so much are raking it in faster than ever.
That message, that the 99% deserve to be rewarded for their work too, is scaring the 1%. Why else are we seeing scenes that look a lot more like Iran than America. In Oakland an Iraq War vet was shot in the face by a Police rubber bullet. He survived looking for nonexistent WMD’s in Iraq, but when fighting real live Mass Destruction like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America he ends up with a fractured skull. He probably enlisted with ideals like “defending our freedom”, but at home he isn’t allowed the freedom he thought he was protecting.
When scenes that looked like this happened overseas, The Obama administration was quick to condemn government violence against peaceful protesters. I wonder how long it will take to break there silence when it is happening to their own people. If I were a gambling man, I would bet ‘not soon.’
For a couple years I worked as a case manager for homeless individuals in Ann Arbor. Over that time, a few of my clients stayed at what is referred to as Camp Take Notice, a tent city led by people who have tried their best to create a community that was safe and free from drugs and alcohol. The camp has started attracting quite a bit of attention over the past two years. I visited the camp, my wife was part of a project that gave the residents a voice throughout Ann Arbor and showcased it at a university gallery, and I was even able to help a client move out when he was able to get his own place.
It’s amazing to me how little poverty is talked about in our country when even in a place like well-to-do Ann Arbor, there are places like this.
No, not Ronald Reagan. Although I hope that the name recognition gives the video more hits. My good friend Reagan Sova got to ask Noam Chomsky a question about corporate personhood in colorado recently, and he just put the video up online. It’s definitely worth 8 minutes of your time.
I (of course) agree with everything Chomsky says on this issue.
Trying to diminish or whitewash America’s racist past is nothing new. We see this from some on the right who can’t see that slavery and jim crow have anything to do with the current disparity between blacks and whites with regards to income, prison rates, violence, and so on. And we see it from some on the left who want to make everything so politically correct so that white people can feel better about themselves. But we don’t usually see two so overt and newsworthy examples of it in the same week.
The first is the one that’s been talked about more, and that is the censoring of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so that the word “nigger” is replaced with the word “slave” to make it more acceptable for high school curriculums. While I understand the impulse to change it so schools won’t get rid of it entirely, I think that this censorship insults the reader, Mark Twain, and Black Americans. It insults the reader by telling them that they are not smart enough to understand that certain things were once socially acceptable and now are not. You’d think this is a pretty simple idea, but apparently we don’t have enough faith in high school students to understand that simple concept. It insults Twain by watering down his work. He obviously used the n-word for a reason, and wanted his readers to feel for characters in the book as they are, not as we would like them to be. And it insults Black Americans because it diminishes the kind of embarrassment and ridicule that they have faced and continue to face. It’s telling them that the history of their suffering is secondary to our need to feel better about ourselves.
The whitewashing of race didn’t stop there. Yesterday house Republicans took to the floor to read the constitution because they, you know, love it so much. They love it so much that they even leave out part of it, speficially, the part that refers to Native Americans and Blacks not really counting as people.
Instead of reading the Constitution in its entirety, House members will read an “amended version” that only includes the sections and amendments that were not changed at a later date. The decision in part will allow members to avoid reading less pleasant sections, like the clause in Article 1, Section 2, which counted black slaves as three-fifths of a person.
To me, if you’re going to make a public display of how much you love the constitution and how you think it’s God’s document, and it’s perfect and all that, you should at least be able to own up to it. All of it.
I really wanted to highlight this wonderful project and product by a 21 year old student in Detroit who designed and has begun to produce coats that transform into sleeping bags specifically to be given to the homeless. And what makes this project even cooler? The coats look great.
Erza Klein hits the nail on the head for why we need good social programs.
Donations to private charities fell by 11 percent last year. That’s the steepest one-time drop in 20 years, and it came, of course, just as the need for the services that those charities provide exploded.
Charity is counter-cyclical. When the economy is booming and there’s less need, there’s also more capacity. When the is worse and there’s more need, donations dry up and there’s less capacity. That’s not a criticism of charities: It’s hardly their fault. And nor is it a criticism of the people who donate — or stop donating — to charities. When you’re worried about paying your mortgage, it’s harder to help other people pay theirs.
But it’s a big part of why we need a robust, federal safety net that’s immune — in a way state-funded programs like Medicaid are not — from the ravages of the business cycle. One of the smartest things we could do would be to federalize the funding for Medicaid and unemployment insurance, or at least create some automatic formulas in which a rise of X amount in the unemployment rate triggered a rise of X percent in the size of the federal contribution.
Having a social safety net isn’t just good policy that makes sure people have money to put back into the economy, it’s good ethics to insure that people are taken care of when they need it most.
I’m considering going back to school for Public Policy. So it’s possible this blog will be taking a more wonkish direction. To those of my friends who don’t care about politics at all, I apologize, a little.
I want to talk today about taxes and the deficit. There is a lot of talk, mainly from the Republican side of the aisle about reducing the deficit, however when it comes to actually taking measure that will do so, they tend to be much quieter. A great example of this is the 2001 Bush tax cuts. The cuts were mostly for people making over $500,000 per year, less than 1 % of the population. (That same 1 % by the way, that owns 23 % of the total income in the country.)
This bill would have been extremely unpopular except for two things. The bill also included some modest cuts for the middle class, so anyone opposing these huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans could be painted as opposing tax cuts for the middle class. The second factor was the surplus left over from Clinton.
It’s a lot easier to pass huge tax cuts when the economy is good. However this action was incredibly short sighted. Surpluses haven’t happened very often in the last 20 years, and spending it all right away on tax cuts for the rich is like someone who has a tough time paying bills spending their whole Christmas bonus on alligator skin shoes.
But the tax cuts passed, and in addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the small recession in 2001, the huge recession in 2007, financial market collapse, Medicare prescription coverage and the bailout we ended up with a nearly trillion dollar deficit when Obama came into office.
As so today the debate is about extending these tax cuts or letting them expire. I find it funny that the same people who are talking the most wanting to reduce the deficit are also the ones pushing to continue these tax cuts even though they were a major factor in creating such a huge deficit. The ability to hold two completely opposing ideas instinct is really remarkable when you think about it.
This is what the future looks like with and without these cuts. As you can see, the biggest contributor to our future deficit is not the wars, or the recession, and certainly not the bailout. It’s the tax cuts for the rich.
If congressional and senate Republicans (and Blue Dog Democrats) really wanted to reduce the deficit, they’d put their money where there mouth is.
Today has been a little surreal. It’s been difficult to avoid hearing about all the anger about Health Care reform. Several congresspeople and senators have received violent threats. Bart Stupak and Ben Nelson had nooses hanging in front of their offices. My hometown congressman Mark Shauer got a voicemail saying “I hope you die a slow death at a young age.” And there’s a report out there that a shot was fired through the window for political consultant of Eric Cantor.
In addition, the past year has seen a large increase in recruitment for neo-nazi, and other hate groups. And in my hometown of Jackson Michigan, a white pride group held a march downtown. (Luckily the people protesting the group outnumbered them 10 to 1.) This in addition to the murder of Dr. Tiller, a pro-life activist, and all the racially charged rants at tea party protests.
A video on how our political climate is mimicking the time right before the Oklahoma City bombing goes into more detail.
I understand disagreeing with the bill. And I know that there is always backlash to change. But I am completely baffled at the violent anger directed at something that makes health care more affordable for people, expands coverage to people who can’t afford it, and reduces the deficit. Not only does this anger baffle me, it frightens me too. We have lost too many great leaders due to this sort of thing. I hope that we don’t lose another.
And then today, after seeing all this, I made my periodic visit to the homeless shelter. I met with two individuals, the first has respiratory problems that make it nearly impossible for her to work. The only way she can pay for her treatment is through our county’s excellent health plan for low income people. The second person has severe mental health problems but his insurance only covers one of the many medications he needs. I could tell you about situations like this all day from people I know.
On my way back to the office from the shelter this song came on.
At that point I lost all words.
update: Turns out the Eric Cantor bullet was randomly fired, and not aimed at his offices.
Last night, after almost two years of on and off watching, Liz and I finally finished The Wire. It is easily one of the best shows I have ever seen. It was especially interesting for someone who studied Sociology, because while it was a show about people, it was also about the social structures we all live in.
If you are planning on watching it in the future and do not want things spoiled I suggest you stop reading.
The final season seemed to me, to make the case that our society necessitates certain roles . These roles will be filled, and no person who enters that role can change it. A few of these roles I want to touch on, from top down on the law are, Mayor, Police Commissioner, Cop. And on the street are Drug Lord, Dealers & Soldiers, Thug, and Addict.
It’s often said that all politicians are corrupt, but I think the more accurate statement is that the role of Politician is corrupt, and people fill it. The shining example of this is Mayor Carcetti. He’s a man who is determined to bring about real substantive change to Baltimore, to root out the corruption and make real progress. He demands that his Police Commissioner give him accurate and clean stats, that they do real police work rather than focus on looking good on paper. But less than a year into office, he’s put in a position where asks for fudged numbers. What makes this so interesting, is how apparent it is that Carcetti doesn’t want to go down this road, but feels like there is no other choice. The role is more powerful than the individual.
The Police Commissioner is an interesting situation because after years of corruption finally a man, Daniels, comes along who will not cooperate. He stands his ground, and subsequently is only Commissioner for a few days. His role required someone who would play ball, and when he didn’t, he no longer held that role, and was quickly replaced by someone who would.
The Cops role is to follow. They fudge numbers when they are told, they do real police work when they are told. When McNulty, Lester, or Herc decide to do things their own way, they don’t remain cops for very long. Their role is to carry out orders. To put your head down and do what you’re told. Those who do that, stay cops. The others, don’t.
On the side of the street we see the roles of Drug Lord filled by several different people. Avon, Stringer, Prop Joe, and finally Marlo. Every time one is killed or apprehended, another quickly fills the void. As long as a demand for drugs exists the role of Drug Lord will be filled by someone. This role is inherently violent. Even when Stringer or Prop Joe attempt to create a less violent way to deal drugs, they ultimately fall victim to the violence of the system they live in.
The same is true for the Dealers and Soldiers. In the first season, McNulty asks D’Angelo Barksdale, “Everything else in the world get sold without people scamming, lying, doing each other dirty… This shit can’t be done without people killing each other?” The answer, is of course no, it cannot. And when Dealers, like D’Angelo try, they don’t survive, and someone else who fits the role better takes their place. Like cops, these are people who, in order to survive in their role, must do what they are told, no matter what.
The Thug, throughout most of the series, is most peoples’ favorite character, Omar Little. Aside from being a fascinating character, he fits his role well. He’s very good at living outside the law, even the street law. He is feared by all and hated by most. And the reason his death is so shocking is that it doesn’t seem possible that anyone else can do what he does. That is until the final episode, when the young Michael starts sticking up Dealers. Michael does not fit well as a Soldier, so instead fills the vacancy left by Omar.
The last and one of the saddest roles is that of the addict. Played through most of the series by one of the most likable characters, Bubbles. In the final season we watch him begin to overcome his addiction, but we also watch the young Duke start to pick up. This is probably the easiest cycle to pick out. Duke even looks a bit like Bubbles.
This is the problematic cycle that is apparent in both the street and the law. As long as drugs are available there will be fiends who will buy them, and as long as there is demand, they will be provided. And as long as political systems are corrupt, no one from the ground up can change them. Nor can someone come in and make top down changes. For one, you need the other, and for the other you need the one.
The structure necessitates each of these roles. And until that structure is changed politicians will always be corrupt, drugs will always be available, and violence will not stop. Hope that doesn’t ruin your weekend.
So a new report out of University of California shows that in 2007, economic inequality in the United States hit and all time high.
As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that’s “higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the ‘roaring” 1920s.‘”
Beginning in the economic expansion of the early 1990s, Saez argues, the economy began to favor the top tiers American earners, but much of the country missed was left behind. “The top 1 percent incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the period 1993-2007,” Saes writes.
I’m not surprised. I knew that the CEO to employee pay gap had shot up from about 40-1 in the 1970′s to near 600-1 in the last few years. But to know that such a small portion of people own half of the countries money makes me a little sick inside. A recent paper by Will Wilkinson made the case that inequality really doesn’t matter, and his arguments have more holes than a tennis net. The New Republic did a good job of calling him out.
Here’s pretty good visual of what we’re talking about
I’m not a Marxist, I don’t believe you can ever have a classless society, but I also think there can be a balance, and that capitalism can be run a lot more responsibly than this.