Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bill Maher: Right Wing, Wanting It THEIR Way, Yearns To Get Occupy Wall Street On THEIR Unlevel Playing Field of Lobbyists and Suits

(Above, Bill Maher on his show this week making the statement talked about below.)

Messages Needing To Break Through: Private Companies Keeping Public’s Solutions Off the Table

Right near the end of this week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, at about the 45 minute mark, Rachel Maddow was talking about how there was no mystery to the fact that “so many common sense solutions, not very partisan solutions” to America’s problems were “off the table” because one or another “big business wants them off the table” “precluding these serious issues from getting traction.” (Crony capitalism ?)

Thomas Friedman, who in the discussion had just identified a set of issues such as a possible carbon tax (i.e. fossil fuels tax) that are vexingly “off the table” thereupon asked how “we the people” can, “leverage our energy to take these people on,” saying with exasperation that this was what he was “hungry for” right now.

That’s when Maher ventured his insight that the right wing wants Occupy Wall Street to resort to more routine and conventional forms of opposition because, if they do, those with the money will have them outgunned so that the Occupy Wall Street crowd will lose. Maher’s words:
When I see these Occupy Wall Street folks and I hear the right wing say `Humph, these people down there with their dirty, filthy. . pissing in the street’ and, you know all this stuff. It’s like, you know what?: They want them, to do it THEIR WAY. They don’t want them in the streets. They’re saying `come inside, put on a suit and get a lobbyist instead, because that way, `we know you’ll lose.’ . . .

. . . This is the only other way to get power when the other side has all the lobbyists and all the suits.
Maddow, commenting on what makes street demonstrations effective, said that demonstrations were designed to be “inconvenient” and “in the way” so they won’t be ignored.

TourĂ© (the MSNBC correspondent and one-name author of “Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?”) commented that inconvenience to the protesters themselves was also key because by expressing the “depth of their commitment” it gave their actions power.

Apparently concurring, Maher said about the value of the particularity of this Freedom of Assembly tactic that:
The only thing that impresses the other side is willingness to stay in the street.
With Privatization Public Expression Becomes an Option “Off the Table”

These observations accord with the key points of a Noticing New York article I posted this week about Occupy Wall Street’s free speech and how it had been effective in breaking through with its message by physically occupying the Zucotti Park space. I quoted Michael Kimmelman, the new architecture critic of The New York Times, that, “we tend to underestimate the political power of physical places” and that the power of various media aside, “nothing replaces people taking to the streets.”

I further noted that as Occupy Wall Street has been achieving surprising success in transmitting its message to a receptive public Mayor Bloomberg has reacted by redefining what he originally described as free speech as something that he no longer wants qualified as such, or to accept. It seems that pro-Wall Street Bloomberg, much as Bill Maher aptly described, would like Occupy Wall Street compelled to communicate more conventionally, on more Bloombergian terms, in which case it is doubtful its message would be getting through as effectively.

Bloomberg already has formidable potential tools at his command to bring about what he wants in terms of breaking up a ‘real estate’ insurrection: His live-in girlfriend is on the board of the private company that owns the `public’ space of Zucotti Park, and Bloomberg is very entwined with the developers of the Real Estate Board of New York who are now seeking to change the law retroactively to evict the OWS protesters.

All of this is especially important, because meaningful free speech, the ability to actually break through with a message is being increasingly threatened with new, historically unfamiliar constraints. Free speech is threatened by an escalating privatization of that which used always to be public. As I wrote, privatization of the streets and parks (real estate) is coming up as an issue right now with Occupy Wall Street but there is also the broader background issue of privatization of the basic elements and channels of speech, via unprecedented restrictions imposed by copyright and through ownership of monopoly media and airwaves. We are even having to fend off pending schemes to privatize ownership of the Internet. And the implications of such privatization for political expression are all the more bleak considering the way in which the nation’s wealth and resources are being ever increasingly skewed to the wealthy.

People publicly “taking to the streets,” is a great leveler to get popularly supported messages through. But when you take on the plutocrats, as Bill Maher suggests, those plutocrats are going to try to convince you to do so on their home playing field, an unlevel one, where you will lose because they have “all the lobbyists and all the suits.” In a world where everything is rapidly being privatized you need “lobbyists” and “suits” to express yourself, unless you resort to “taking the streets.” But, in New York City, that option too is fast being precluded to by the privatizing of previously public space: streets, sidewalks and parks. If Bloomberg and the New York City real estate oligarchs have it their way it may soon be that to demonstrate in what used to be public space you will need your own private army of lobbyists and suits.

I said a lot more about this in my Noticing New York article on the subject: Saturday, October 22, 2011, Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?

If you read it you will also gain an appreciation (also explained here) for why the picture below depicts Mayor Bloomberg’s dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Monday, October 24, 2011

On NPR, Echo of Coinciding Principles Noticed: What the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Ought To Agree On

(Above, Mayor Bloomberg’s dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, at Occupy Wall Street?- Keep reading.)

On Saturday I had just posted a Noticing New York article, almost a treatise, about Occupy Wall Street and how it is confronting the subtractions of free speech flowing from Occupied Wall Street’s declared bane, the increasingly unfair effects of concentration of wealth in this country. In that article I had commented briefly:
Objection to the teaming up of government and monopoly should be common ground for both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street activists although I suspect that the proportion of Occupy Wall Street protesters astute enough to realize this may be greater.
(See: Saturday, October 22, 2011, Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?)

The post was hardly up when I heard much the same point made in a very good eleven-minute “All Things Considered” story about what the Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party have and ought to have in common: Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party: United In Distrust, by NPR Staff, October 22, 2011. (I went back to add a link to it in the article I already had up.) This point, perhaps the strongest part of the story, was in NPR’s audio version of the story (not the written article accompanying it), transcript now available. It is an exchange between All Things Considered host Guy Raz and Harvard professor and activist Lawrence Lessig:
RAZ: In some ways, the Tea Party was a response to the perceived growth and power of government. And, of course, Occupy Wall Street is a response to the perceived growth and power of corporate America. Are those incompatible ideas?

LESSIG: No, they're not. Because whether you are upset about the size of government or the size of corporations, one thing everybody should be upset about is when corporations use their power to corrupt the government, to reinforce their size and their influence. A critical change in the way in which we've seen America become much more unequal was driven by changes in public policy that was driven itself by the kind of influence that my book [“Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It”] is trying to attack.

So whether, again, you like big corporations or you like capitalism, you and the right cannot possibly defend crony capitalism. And that's why Cato Institute and every single credible principled right-wing organization or libertarian organization or conservative organization has historically fought that kind of corruption.
The whole story is worth listening to. This exchange occurs at about minute 8:00 if you click below.

Professor Lessig's book suggests one solution he thinks would help: campaign finance reform. Whether or not that would be easy, given such things as free speech issues, it is worth thinking about. Lessig points out that all the money for the nation's political campaigns comes from .5% of the population which means that it is really the .5% vs. the 99.5% that Occupy Wall Street ought to be talking about.

Coinciding Principles Noticed Before

I have been making the point of this obvious common ground for some time now. For instance here:
Noticing New York Philosophy

Where does Noticing New York stand on the political spectrum? Noticing New York attempts to apply both conservative and liberal tests of what good government should be. They overlap a great deal more than is generally acknowledged. Conservatives may fear big government and liberals may fear big business, but these days the preeminent problem both should unite to oppose is the collusion of big government to give big business the edge
(See: Wednesday, March 23, 2011, Whither the New York Times? Noticing New York Comment Respecting a Manhattan Institute Sponsored Debate.)

And here:
The New York Times is often referred to as a “liberal” or “liberal establishment” newspaper. I think that is inaccurate. I think the Times is more a quasi-Democrat-establishment paper. To me, true liberals have more in common with libertarians than is often acknowledged. The Democratic establishment and the Times have assimilated predilections to unfairly support big business at the expense of the rights of individuals and local communities that ought to be protected. This doesn’t make them different from Republicans: mostly it makes them more like them.

A Voice on Eminent Domain

The city needs voices to speak out for "limited government, individual liberty, constitutional fundamentals” and those voices should be speaking out against eminent domain abuse as a foremost concern.
(See: Thursday, September 11, 2008, If the Sun Sets.)

And here:
Even though or despite the fact that the Atlantic Yards area was, through natural economic processes, attracting substantial economic capital and creating million dollar co-ops and condos, Atlantic Yards is a supreme example of something with so many bad economic equations it would never happen except for public subsidy. That subsidy is overriding private enterprise in a huge way that ought to be offensive to conservative and liberal thinkers alike.
(Sunday, November 15, 2009, Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #30: Avoidance of Cataclysmic Money? NO.)

An Odd Couple: Like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, More In Common Than They Think

Author and columnist Amity Shlaes, whom most would consider to be at the conservative or libertarian end of the political spectrum was one of the principles involved in running the now defunct newspaper the New York Sun written about in the “If the Sun Sets” article linked to above was. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman who writes for the New York times si what many would consider a liberal. Much was made of a supposed feud between Ms. Shlaes and the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman at a time when you could find at front table of Barnes and Noble new books that each of them had written analyzing Depression economics. Ms. Shlaes’ late 2007 book was “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression”; Krugman’s book, “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008” came out in 2009 and was a reworking of a 1999 Krugman book.

Each of these books endeavors to inform the reader about where the dangers lurk respecting what can send a country into a downward economic spiral, either an economic depression or a severe recession like the Great Recession we are now experiencing. Ms. Shlaes’ book, which I previously wrote about in a Noticing New York article (Wednesday, February 11, 2009, A Brooklyn Paper Editorial & Atlantic Yards: With Nothing Else Good To Say, We Are Stimulated To Say. . . ), is clearly focused to a large extent on finding fault with the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s handling of the Great Depression. It seeks, if you will, to bust the myth that Roosevelt handled it with aplomb. Krugman, on the other hand, would argue that, in big-picture terms, that the FDR administration acquitted itself well by having government step in to stimulate the economy in a Keynesian way, spending when private enterprise was failing to so.

One thing Shlaes’ book makes clear is just how free rangingly Roosevelt was reaching to experiment as he was trying to address the Depression. While the Milton Friedman/Richard Nixon “We are all Keynesians now” statements of 1966 and 1971 secured in economic convention the importance of Keynesian thinking when Roosevelt was president, that thinking was brand new and everything associated with it just an experiment. Shlaes is clearly preoccupied with the lines that should not be crossed, or are not beneficially crossed, when a subsidizing government steps in to take over enterprises that she thinks should be done independently by the private sector.

Shlaes’ criticisms of the fuzzy cost calculations and empire building associated with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) sound reminiscent of Jane Jacobs’ criticisms of the TVA in her “Cities and the Wealth of Nations,” where Jacobs points out how the TVA (financed with what she describes as capital imported into the region by the government) with the assistance of tricky (government program) “advantageous accounting,” went astray from its original clean, healthy environment and low-cost power goals, once involving hydro-electric power, to provide subsides, ultimately, for uneconomic coal-fired and nuclear plants. Jacobs always endeavored to think freely, refusing to be tagged with political labels such as liberal, conservative, libertarian, Democrat or Republican.

Shlaes’ concepts of the multitudinous things she thinks government should not be spending on may make counter-cyclically Keynesian government spending a greater challenge but oughtn’t to preclude it. That being said, Krugman and Shlaes are both opposed to “crony capitalism.”

Krugman on Crony Capitalism

Krugman brings up the topic using the term a number of times in his “Return of Depression Economics.” For instance, as many are doing these days he compares current problems in the United States to Japan’s crisis of long lasting economic doldrums and says this of the Japanese economy and its “distinctive characteristics” once mistakenly associated with prospects for success (p.60):
Only much later would those same distinctive characteristics– the cozy relationship between government and business, the extension of easy credit by government-guaranteed banks to closely allied companies– come to be labeled crony capitalism and seen as the root of economic malaise.
On page 82 he revisits this in connection with the Asian economic bubble:
What should have been noticed was that he claim that Asian borrowing represented free private-sector decisions was not quite the truth. For Southeast Asia, like Japan in the bubble years, had a moral hazard problem– the problem that woudl soon be dubbed crony capitalism.
This leads in to a description of the necessary job the Asian banks were consequently not doing and why they were not directing “funds to their most profitable uses” (p. 83);
The answer, basically, was political connections– often, indeed the owner of a finance company was a relative of some government official. And so the claim that the decisions about how much to borrow and invest represented private-sector judgments, not to be second-guessed, rang more than a bit hollow.
There is more and the entire book is worth reading.

Bubble Popped on Crony Capitalism

Crony Capitalism makes it possible to go hugely into debt without getting corresponding assets in return. It means that society's investments aren't productive. If you pump money into a country without getting value in return you get a bubble economy* which shouldn't be good for anyone. But if a crony capitalism economy is going to be good for anyone it is probably going to be the cronies in whom such cronyism is concentrating the wealth.

(* Although John Maynard Keynes played speculatively as a mind exercise with the notion of government’s generating economic growth simply by hiring people to dig holes and fill them up again, he pointed out how wastefully nonsensical the notion was, even though it would have a stimulative effect. He did not address the bubble-inflating aspect of such conduct if it is paid for with debt and an expanded money supply. One thing to be wary of: Construction worker unions will support projects that are the conceptual equivalent of digging holes and filling them in again. Example: Atlantic Yards' tearing down of newly renovated top-of-the-market condominiums.)

Shlaes: Find and Reward Success, Not Government Connectedness

Even though Shales never once uses the actual term “crony capitalism” or a variant thereof in her own book, this kind of analysis is quite consistent with the kind of thinking and the many situations she presents with a mind to arguing that there were government practices on the part of the Roosevelt administration that unnecessarily prolonged the Depression, how not everything that was done in the name of lifting the nation out of the Depression was serviceable in doing so and how much of what government did was unwittingly counterproductive.

What Shlaes keeps returning to as her central vision for the kind of workable capitalism for which she argues is establishing a cycle of finding and rewarding economic success, rewarding such success not political connection. Crony capitalism, with its assets that don't produce, is the opposite of that and leads, overall for a country as a whole, to failure. Crony capitalism leads to a downward spiral, a cycle and ever-increasing concentration of power as political connection is rewarded instead.

(For material on the Krugman/Shlaes feud/debate here are some links, although what you will find discussed are their differences not the commonality discussed here. The last two links attempt some reconciliation of their viewpoints: November 19, 2008, 3:22 pm, Amity Shlaes strikes again, By Paul Krugman; Shlaes Back to Krugman, Posted on Monday, November 24th, 2008, by Amity Shlaes, November 29, 2008, Changes in money-wages and Amity Shlaes, Opinion November 29, 2008 The Krugman Recipe for Depression, Massive government spending is no solution to unemployment; The Leonard Lopate Show / December 01, 2008 / Paul Krugman on Depression Economics; Krugman vs. Shlaes — Not A Fair Fight, by Marion Maneker - November 29th, 2008; and My take on the Shlaes/Krugman debate, by Adam T, Sun Nov 30, 2008.)

Common Ground of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Not Shared By Crony Capitalist Bloomberg

What does the Tea Party think about the fact that they may have common ground with Occupy Wall Street? Well, some Tea Party spokespersons have been commenting that the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy is that te Tea party believes in process and the Constitution and the Occupy Wall Street protesters don’t. Really? Where did that come from? Where that comes from and what Occupy Wall Street protesters think about this and the potential for common ground will have to be the subject for a later article.

As for why there was a picture of Bloomberg’s two Labradors Photoshopped to show them joining the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, two things:
• Occupy Wall Street and the Tea party might have reason in common to oppose crony capitalism but Bloomberg is a man in favor of crony capitalism and practices it

• To read about the way that crony capitalism is concentrating wealth at the top and thereby putting in jeopardy your free speech rights to protest that very fact, (AND what the New York City real estate industry has to do with it), you’ll have to read my above-mentioned Noticing New York article about why Bloomberg’s dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, should perhaps be joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters. (See: Saturday, October 22, 2011, Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Not THAT Michael White: Visiting Occupy Wall Street and How I Know The Economy Is Bad (For the 99%)

My first visit to the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Zucotti Park I got to chatting with a reporter from the New York Times. When we concluded, she asked my name and I gave her my card. I cautioned her that if she used my name she would have to put in both my middle initials (D. & D.) between the Michael and the White or nobody would know who I was. There are too many Michael Whites I told her. After all you hardly have to go very far at all to find another one who is also a lawyer and an urban planner. (See: Wednesday, August 13, 2008, Not THAT Michael White.)

In fact, I told her (since we had been speaking a lot about the economy), because there are so many Michael Whites I have my own personal barometer of how bad the economy is now. I am getting a lot of calls. I recognize them right away. Someone on the other end of the line adopts a very firm businesslike tone as they prepare to dun me to pay some other Michael Whites defaulted bills. “Do you have any middle initials for the Michael White you want?” (I always ask the same question.) Sometimes they get feisty and want to know mine first or have me give my Social Security number to them, which I don’t do. These days I get pretty conversational with these guys and give them helpful hints about saving time by not going after the wrong people or getting suckered into pursuing some account that was originally handed off to some other collection agency first. And, I politely convey my hopes that they won’t call back.

I didn’t used to get all these calls. Not when the economy was good. I know from the variety of the middle initials they give me that there sure are a lot of Michael Whites having a tough time these days.

The Times reporter wanted to know if I supported the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Yes, I pretty much do, I said, although I said I recognized that it was still a relatively inchoate movement working on putting together the messages that they wanted to collectively convey. I made the obvious comparison to the Tea Party but noted that I thought that a key difference was that a lot of money had been poured early on into the Tea Party from above, like from the Koch brothers, to help structure it’s messages. The result was a deflection of popular anger from where it should have gone. I told the reporter that I thought the occupiers of Wall Street are much more on target about who they ought to be angry at.

A few days later Paul Krugman, opening up one of his columns, said exactly what I’d meant and since there is always benefit in quoting a Nobel prize-winning professor of economics when talking about the economy I will use his words:

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.
(See: Confronting the Malefactors, by Paul Krugman, October 6, 2011.)

Krugman’s more recent column about Occupy Wall Street is to the effect that the shrill and disproportionate reaction of the super-rich and their defenders to the protests indicates that they realize that they have something to hide:
The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.
(See: Panic of the Plutocrats, by Paul Krugman, October 9, 2011.)

I told the reporter that not all that long ago (January 2010) I had been part of luncheon discussion, attended by another Times reporter, with Jonathan Tasini who was then running for the U.S. Senate against Kirsten E. Gillibrand. That discussion was immediately following the specially held Massachusetts Senate election for Ted Kennedy’s former seat that had been unexpectedly won by Tea Party candidate Scott Brown. I explained that we had discussed at that lunch how we understood and appreciated the anger expressed in that race together with our expectation that we would ultimately see anger, having much in common with the Tea Party’s own, that would be expressed on the left and directed where it ought to be directed. (You will remember that the Senate seat now held by Scott Brown is the one that Elizabeth Warren is seeking to reclaim for the Democrats. Brian Lehrer bluntly ventured that Occupy Wall Street is happy with Ms. Warren, and that's a good guess.)

Michael Cooper, the reporter who wrote about the luncheon with candidate Tasini, put in both my middle initials. (See: An Underdog Who Isn’t Daunted by a New Try for the Senate, January 26, 2010, by Michael Cooper, January 19, 2010- BTW: Reporter Michael Cooper has a problem similar to my own: There are a lot of Michael Coopers, including an attorney who was once part of my legal staff.)

I went back and looked at Mr. Cooper’s article when writing this and unfortunately it does not document our prescience as extensively as I might have hoped, although it does refer to Candidate Tasini’s being “persuaded of broad voter furor” and his diagnosis that the loss of the Massachusetts race reflected, “voter contempt for insiders.” The article also noted that Mr. Tasini, “wants a tax on every transaction on Wall Street.” Our antipathy for the infuriating Yankee Stadium boondoggle was also mentioned in the article.

The reporter covering Occupy Wall Street wanted to know if I had demonstrated against anything else recently. I told her I had been there to protest the Prokhorov/Ratner (“Barclays’) basketball arena ground breaking.

Atlantic Yards,” she said without skipping a beat. “And before that?

The truth is that I don’t generally think of myself as much of a street protester. Had I thought about it I should have also mentioned my participation in demonstrations against Columbia’s abuse of eminent domain to gain exclusive control of the swath of West Harlem over by the Hudson (in one demonstration we walked over to the home of Lee Bollinger, the very highly paid president of Columbia, much as the OWS folks just marched to the homes of Wealthy Wall Streeters) and on July 26, 2011 I was also outside Governor Cuomo’s New York City office to protest his apparent intent to open up New York to hydraulic fracturing.
“I remember protesting the Vietnam War and the manufacture of napalm,” I told her, my more recent demonstrating not coming immediately to mind. Perhaps the flavor of the occupancy was prompting me to think back to that era. “I tend to be more of a thinker,” I told her, “putting thoughts together.” I held up a Jane Jacobs book I was carrying with me. (I also had material with me about real estate tax policy respecting not for profits).
“There has been a lot of talk recently about how the banks were helped out and permitted to continue during the fiscal crisis because they were `too big to fail’,” I said. “And people point out quite readily that `too big to fail’ ought to mean `to big to exist.’ What no one is mentioning,” I continued, “is that `too big to fail’ may also mean ‘too big to do a good job.’ Jane Jacobs in `The Economy of Cities’ discussed how in order to promote development, growth and innovation in the economy, it is beneficial for financing institutions to be small and intimately connected with their client businesses. Had the banks not been handed a bailout we might have capital diffused among more effective smaller institutions. Instead, we see huge impersonal institutions sitting on a lot of capital they are NOT lending out.”

“Vietnam!” said my interviewer, impressed, and I admitted, when she asked, that I’ll soon be sixty. A few days later, comparison to Vietnam demonstrations came up in Times articles: “Several New Yorkers said that they had not been to a protest since the Vietnam War” (See: Wall St. Protest Attracts Many New to This Sort of Thing, by Cara Buckley, October 5, 2011) and, because Mayor Bloomberg (a target of many OWS placards) referring to protest of that era commented that, “we treated our vets who came back terribly, just terribly,” (See: For Mayor, ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Evokes Protests From Vietnam Era, by Kate Taylor, October 7, 2011) which assertion by Bloomberg ties in with a commonly perpetuated myth on that topic.
Do I believe the same things that the protesters of Occupy Wall Street believe? I do support many of their positions. To a large extent I find that things I have been writing match up well against the placards I see in Zucotti Park. For instance:
• The economy is poor because with greater income inequality most people’s incomes are going down. See: Friday, May 13, 2011, Inflation That's Causing Deflation: Some Not So Very Good News For the Real Estate Market
• It is not true when we are being told that there are problems with Social Security and that benefits will have to be cut back. Instead, the problem about which we we are not being told is that the wealthier are no longer contributing what they were expected to contribute before. See: Friday, April 29, 2011, Social Security Inequation: This is Rich, Living Longer While Everyone Else Enjoys It Less; Putting Two Together

• Congress is NOT doing it’s job and so-called “job creation” efforts are often rigged games intended to benefit the wealthier instead. See: Sunday, March 27, 2011, Congress Not Doing Its Job? Job Creation Programs That Don’t- The American Jobs Creation Act and the EB-5 Program for Sale of Green Cards

• Women need to be more respected. See: Wednesday, June 29, 2011,Women Are Better Than Men At Nearly Everything- But We Are Eliminating Them! The Absence of Women In A Man-Made World

• The tax system needs to be more favorable to the 99% and less to the 1%. See: Tuesday, October 11, 2011, The First Most Obvious Tax To Eliminate If You Want To Increase Employment: The Payroll Tax

• If we are not going to abolish the Fed, we need to at least consider whether the directors who staff it are serving the 99% or the 1%. See: Wednesday, October 12, 2011, Visiting Occupy Wall Street We Hear “Eliminate the Fed!”: OR Maybe Just Federal Reserve Directors Backing Mega-Monopolies For the Super-Connected?
• Government supported monopolies targeted for those who are privileged and politically connected are unconscionable. See: Friday, September 30, 2011, Could the Atlantic Yards Monopoly Be Even Less Regulated Than It Is? Why A Mega-Monopoly Continuation Isn’t Workable
• Many of the placards in Zucotti park decry the rape of the environment via the fossil fuel industry scam of hydrofracking about which I have written encyclopedically. See: Monday, August 8, 2011, Hydraulic Fracturing’s Deleterious Environmental Effects: Andrew Cuomo’s Plan To End His State’s Ban and the Passage of the NYS Marriage Equality Law
• I have also been alert to how the hydrofracking issue is closely related to the proposed development of the Canadian tar sands together with facilitation of that development by building the XL high pressure pipeline. In this regard I have noted parallels between this and other publicly abusive corporate-government alliances. See: Sunday, October 9, 2011, More Parallels: Atlantic Yards and the Way the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Setting Up An Approval For the Keystone XL Tar Sands High Pressure Oil Pipeline and Wednesday, October 5, 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg In the Regalia of Queen Elizabeth I? Noticing New York’s Testimony at the DOT Hearing on Atlantic Yards Bollard Plan
• The oil companies and the rest of the fossil fuel industry, together with their captured politicians, interested only in their own profit, are endangering all of us by absurdly ignoring Global Warming/Weather Weirding. See: Saturday, September 3, 2011, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Global Warming and Those Texas-based Oil Companies

• Because a captured press is too often not reporting the stories that need to be reported the 1% are able to take advantage of the 99%. See: Sunday, June 26, 2011, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” Reviewed; Plus The “New York Times Effect” on New York’s Biggest Real Estate Development Swindle

• The American public needs to wake up and think rather than be lured into circus side shows. See: Friday, September 16, 2011, Will America Shrink FROM Or INTO Crowds Clamoring For Death? and Friday, July 1, 2011, Cultural Circus? Mr. Ratner’s Attempt to Rechristen His Arena A “Cultural Center”

• Communication in this country is too much in the control of corporate interests. See: Tuesday, September 20, 2011, A Parable: Some Words Concerning the Future of Communication
(Above an interfaith protest arrives Sunday with their version of Wall Street's "bull" being the bible's Golden Calf idol. Below the golden idol gets a wary police escort) • The corporate world has become unethical. See: Friday, April 22, 2011, Applying the Principles of Legal Ethics to New York Development: Lawyers Are Not Supposed to Represent Deceiving Clients

• The miscalculations of the self-interested and greedy will bankrupt us. See: Friday, May 20, 2011, The Miscalculations Encouraged By the Fuzzy Math of Subsidies: Yankee Stadium Bonds on Verge of Default- A Case Study
• Private corporations are too much in control and have taken over the work that government should be doing. See: Thursday, June 16, 2011, Sovereign Immunity, Reconfiguration of Brooklyn’s Traffic And The Peculiar Verisimilitude of Government Functions When Forest City Ratner Takes Over
• There is unprecedented absurdity in making the city’s richest man, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of the city and just because he’s “corporate” and out sources to corporate friends doesn’t mean Bloomberg runs the city well. See: Thursday, October 22, 2009, This Is Rich! Looks Like Bloomberg is Making History and Monday, March 28, 2011, Take TWO (AYR’s) On Times Coverage- Revisiting Light Shed by CityTime Outsourcing Scandal When Reexamining Bloomberg Management Myth
• And perhaps it is worthwhile to extend this list with a mention of one last post. We saw Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping in the throng at Zucotti Park. His bright white suit makes him stand out, especially as we run into him often at other events important to how New York City is developing including Save Coney Island and Atlantic Yards events. See: Friday, December 19, 2008, A Jolly Good Meet and there is now an OWS Reverend Billy video: Let's call it - Banking!

Some of the above articles from Noticing New York may be more parochial in the concerns they detail than are the articles above from National Notice that focus specifically on national policy issues and debate but the underlying themes are all pretty much in common.
Am I presumptuous to be fairly confident that I have identified above many key concerns that a lot of the Occupy Wall Street protesters share?
Last week on Bill Maher’s Real Time (presumably it is still possible for a number of the 99% to afford HBO which carries the show) there was a discussion about whether the protesters had a coherent message or needed more focus. Journalist P. J. O'Rourke and commentator Nicole Wallace (being snide and juvenile with attempts at potty-humor) provided perfect foils for Democrat Alan Grayson a former one-term Congressman from Florida to address the issue. Said Grayson:
No, listen, Bill I have no problem understanding what they are complaining about. . . .I was an economist for more than three years. . . .

. . . . Now let me tell you what they talking about: They’re complaining that Wall Street wrecked the economy more than three years ago and nobody has been held responsible of that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying 20% of our national net worth accumulated over the course of two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of the country and that one party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and that the other party caters to them as well. That’s the real truth of the matter as you’ve said before.
O’Rourke jibed that the Occupy Wall Street protesters had “found their spokesperson,” to which Grayson rejoined:
If I am a spokesman for all the people who think we should not have 24 million people in this country who can't find a full-time job; that we should not have 50 million people in this country who can't see a doctor when they're sick; that we shouldn't have 47 million people in this country who need government help in order to feed themselves; and we shouldn't have 15 million families who owe more than their mortgage, then the value of their home.- Okay, I'll be that spokesman.
A video of the exchange is available at Real Clear Politics: Grayson: I'll Be Spokesman For Unemployed, Uninsured.

I don’t know who the Occupy Wall Street protesters will endorse as their spokespersons in the end but Grayson’s endeavor in this regard was credibly eloquent. The one quibble: It is not just that Wall Street wrecked the economy and that no one has been indicted; it is also that much of the wrecking of the economy involved people doing things that were wrong and that they knew were wrong. With or without Grayson’s help one thing is clear: However much sharper the protesters’ message could be in the future it is pretty damn clear already.

A final point. The theory for letting the 1% keep their highly disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth (and keep, as well, all the rules running in their favor that make it that way) is that we can somehow expect that their wealth will ultimately trickle down to the rest of us. In fact it would be truthful to say that New York City is doing better than they rest of the country right now because Wall Street is located here. That makes this city first in line for any trickle down and means the city likely benefits from more "trickle" than anywhere else. Maybe that’s so, but remember all those Michael Whites the bill collectors keep contacting me about? Well, those Michael Whites live around Wall Street too and their creditors are still calling.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Visiting Occupy Wall Street We Hear “Eliminate the Fed!”: OR Maybe Just Federal Reserve Directors Backing Mega-Monopolies For the Super-Connected?

(Photo above from this link.)

There are provocative ideas circulating among the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Maybe with respect to one idea, a very powerful one, we can take heed, but start small by considering a basic essential: Is the Federal Reserve on the public’s side?

Visiting Occupy Wall Street you will probably see, as I did, the placards calling for elimination of the Fed, (aka the “Federal Reserve” or “Federal Reserve System”). That’s also something that Ron Paul, more frequently thought of as closer to the Tea Party side of things, is calling for. Indeed, hostility toward the Fed is a theme that is also circulating amongst the Tea Party activists and activists invoking the Tea Party label (how does one differentiate and how critical is it to do so?).

From Tea Party Advocates, Anger at the Federal Reserve, by Sewell Chan, October 10, 2010

Tea Party Rallying Cry: Abolish the Federal Reserve! By Liz Peek, The Fiscal Times, November 10, 2010

End the federal reserve - American Tea Party Constitutional Coalition
The Federal Reserve - A Scam!

The Tea Party vs. the Federal Reserve, by Michael Tennant, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

AUDIT THE FEDERAL RESERVE (New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition)
That's not to say that all those out to earn Tea Party credentials and endorsement are opposed to the Fed. Herman Cain was chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank in the mid-1990s. (See: Herman Cain: Federal Reserve Chairman, Tea Party Champion, by Joshua Green, May 27 2011.)

Eliminate the Fed? GULP! That would be a big step. It’s really hard to get one’s mind around what it would mean in terms of the economy. And the belief of some that eliminating the Fed would be good because it would be better to regulate the money supply by a return to the gold standard is scary: How much gold you have isn’t a measure of true societal wealth. Among other things you can’t eat it.

(Below an interfaith protest arrives Sunday with their version of Wall Street's "bull" being the bible's Golden Calf idol.)

We understand concerns that the Fed has a lot of power, that while it functions as if it is one of the most powerful organs of government it is not readily accountable as other branches of government are supposed to be, that it is in technical terms essentially a private entity.

Although it is embedded in the nation’s political history the Fed is a entire branch of government you can’t find in the Constitution.

The origin’s of the Fed go back to the creation of federal central banking via the famous Hamilton, Jefferson Dinner Table Bargain of June 1790 whereby the other side of the agreement was to locate the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. (The Constitution also doesn’t say where the capitol of the U.S. should be. Before D.C. it was located in Philadelphia and New York City.) Though the compromise may have traded away New York City’s then status as the official political capital of the U.S. via the compromise, Hamilton, then the Treasury Secretary (Jefferson was Secretary of State) secured for New York the de facto status as the nation’s financial capitol from then on.

Take the big step of eliminating the Fed? Maybe we could start with the smaller step of looking at who are the Federal Reserve Directors and whether they can be counted upon to serve the public interest. As mentioned above: Herman Cain?

(Above Federal Reserve Directors Kathy Wylde and Lee Bollinger both of whom are key backers of neighborhood-seizing eminent domain abuse to benefit government assisted monopolies.)

More important, I have previously pointed out with some anguish that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has on its board two directors, Kathy Wylde and Lee Bollinger, both with one thing conspicuously in common: They have both been key in backing the neighborhood-destroying seizure of land through eminent domain abuse. At the expense of community interests they have endorsed those seizures for the sake of governmentally assisting politically-connected private mega-monopolies. This is some of what I previously wrote:
Regarding Director Wylde:
Kathy Wylde, whose most high-profile recent actions have been to go out of her way to promote Atlantic Yards, the megadevelopment on track to be one of New York’s most conspicuous money-losing failures. (See the July 27, 2009 story in Crain’s.)

* * * *

Ms. Wilde has been president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City for some time and was prominently in the news in the (pre-fiscal crisis) summer of 2008 as a supporter amongst the inner business circle strategizing for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s overturn of term limits to get a surprise third term. Wylde effused that the business world was “primed” to help him. (See: Bigs Back Law Change to Keep Mike, By Angela Montefinise, July 27, 2008.) . . .

Wylde Support of Economic Mega-Losses for NYC

A spectacularly flawed project in almost all respects, New York City’s Independent Budget Office has concluded that the Atlantic Yards arena, the only part of the Atlantic Yards project currently designed or for which any kind of enforceable, documented deal exists will be a net money loser for the city to the tune of $220 million($39.5 million in direct losses and $180.5 million in opportunity losses). The megadevelopment’s guaranteed inadequacies flow principally from the fact that it was set up and concocted by the developer, Forest City Ratner, as a subsidy-infusion system intended to deliver maximum benefit to the developer at the expense of the public. The IBO has conservatively calculated that on the arena alone the city will be giving the developer$726 million in no-bid giveaways.
Regarding Director Bollinger:
Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University. One of the three highest paid presidents at a private university ($1.4 million annual compensation package), Mr. Bollinger has spearheaded Columbia’s usurpation of West Harlem using eminent domain to gain a multi-decade monopoly shut-out on the real estate there, very much like Atlantic Yards.
(For more of what I said then- and I had a lot of points to make- See: Saturday, September 19, 2009, Really Wylde? New NY Federal Reserve Bank Director Supported Major NYC Net Loss ($220 Million) Megadevelopment.)

The Tea Party tends to focus its anger at government. Occupy Wall Street is focusing anger more directly at Wall Street. Both groups ought to be properly directing their anger at the double-whammy you get whenever government steps in to support Wall Street and/or to specially benefit politically connected monopolies and elites. We see it far too often. Indeed, the shared objections to the Fed is that it is a private entity usurping government prerogatives and functions to favor private interest over public interests.

So, if the Fed is going to be kept around do we want it to have directors like Wylde and Bollinger who readily endorse the kind of abuse favoring the 1% over the 99%?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The First Most Obvious Tax To Eliminate If You Want To Increase Employment: The Payroll Tax

It seems pretty obvious that the U.S. economy needs to create more jobs. So obvious that there’s an obvious fix that ought to be considered: elimination of payroll taxes. Taxation is necessary as the price of civilization but in the world of taxation it is axiomatic that what you tax you will get less of. So look at what you tax. Do you really want to tax employment?

Headlines on Dwindling Employment: Fewer and Lower-Paying Jobs

The headlines rolling in about national employment, or the lack thereof, make it clear the situation is sensationally bad and headed for worse. There aren’t enough jobs and the majority of those that exist need to be better paying At the meager rate that the U.S. economy is creating jobs, the relatively good job figures reflected by the uptick of jobs in the September jobs report (103,000 new jobs, better than the number of jobs added over the summer) will not be enough to keep pace with the growth in population. Consequently, if job creation only remains at this level, and there is reason to think it won’t even do that, the nation’s unemployment rate will not go down from 9.1 percent. That's already unacceptably high. If the job creation numbers return to where they have been recently the unemployment rate will rise.

The reason to think job creation figures could likely head down again is that real household income is declining and this, as previously pointed out in an earlier National Notice article, is likely to lead to a downward spiral, particularly as it cycles through real estate values that could be very similar to the dynamic during the first Great Depression.

Continuing High Unemployment Rate, Perhaps Headed Up

Here from the headlines:

The New York Times on the last job report: Adding Jobs, but Not Many, U.S. Economy Seems to Idle, by Motoka Rich, October 7, 2011
The economy is not growing fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate, which held steady at 9.1 percent in September. Local governments and school districts are cutting large numbers of workers. And about a third of the jobs added by the private sector last month were actually 45,000 Verizon workers who had been on strike during August and were simply returning to work.
American Public Radio’s Marketplace about the same report: Jobs added in September, By Mitchell Hartman, Friday, October 7, 2011. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman interviewed economist Kevin Hassett at the American Enterprise Institute who thinks:
. . . . we'll plateau around 100,000 new jobs a month for the foreseeable future.
And he interviewed Harvard economist Lawrence Katz to conclude that this means “the unemployment rate won't budge and the six million long-term unemployed won't get back on the job,” or in Katz’s own words:
The modest job growth that we've seen is just about what you need to keep up with population growth. It's not enough to bring people back to work.
6.7 Percent- Falling Average Income

At the same time the Times is reporting about declining incomes that “between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent”: Recession Officially Over, U.S. Incomes Kept Falling, by Robert Pear, October 9, 2011:
In a grim sign of the enduring nature of the economic slump, household income declined more in the two years after the recession ended than it did during the recession itself, new research has found.

* * *

That reduction occurred even though the unemployment rate fell slightly, to 9.2 percent in June compared with 9.5 percent two years earlier. Two main forces appear to have held down pay: the number of people outside the labor force — neither working nor looking for work — has risen; and the hourly pay of employed people has failed to keep pace with inflation, as the prices of oil products and many foods have jumped.

During the recession itself, by contrast, wage gains outpaced inflation.

One reason pay has stagnated is that many people who lost their jobs in the recession — and remained out of work for months — have taken pay cuts in order to be hired again.
Here is the Times graph: Declining Household Income, October 9, 2011.

Eliminating or Reducing Payroll Taxes Means What?

Proposing to eliminate or reduce payroll taxes does not mean to eliminate income taxes or associated income tax withholding procedures. Instead the proposal is to eliminate or significantly reduce the cost of Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance.

Do it Long Term and Across the Board

Employment often is and needs to be a long-term relationship (among other things it is not always easy for employers to quickly fire people) so, to be meaningful, any reduction or elimination of these taxes would have to be long-term and assured and understood to be long-term when implemented. The adjustments should also be broad-based, applying to all workers: In other words the temptation to tinker around the margins and reduce taxes only for `newly-created’ or `added’ jobs should be rejected. That’s just too complicated and leads to all sorts of senseless and unhelpful accounting ruses to qualify.

Social Security Structure Remaining Intact

Elimination of these payroll taxes does not mean having to change the Social Security Trust structure. The same amounts would have to be deposited into the trust to keep it actuarially sound but the moneys would have to come from somewhere else. Payouts to retired workers who worked more years and earned more would still be greater, just as under the current system. That means that more payments would have to go into the system when the economy was booming and more workers were working, but isn’t this the exactly the kind of problem/challenge that it is good to have?

Medicare and Unemployment Insurance

By the same token, all that is good about or bad about the formulas pursuant to which money is set aside for Medicare or as unemployment insurance could remain intact, but to the extent that these formulae don’t make sense they could be changed. It does make sense to save against a rainy day and, when the economy is good, set aside funds for the payout of unemployment benefits in the future. But that doesn’t mean that an actuarial relationship can be exactly calibrated or that payout of unemployment benefits shouldn’t be continued when the economy is especially bad.

On the other hand, does it make sense that Medicare taxes should be based on employment at all, that employers should perceive the (future) provision of healthcare, generally, for persons over 65 (currently) to be a cost of employing additional workers? In fact, what proper relationship should there be between healthcare and employment at all? To the extent that healthcare (fostered by special tax treatment- i.e. by excluding employer-provided healthcare benefits from income taxation- or whatever) is viewed as an essential incident to employment then, healthcare costing what it does today, gums up the employment economy. It makes it much harder for employers and employees who are otherwise a good fit for each other to match up for the right reasons.

A Revenue Shortfall That Would Need To Be Addressed?

If payroll taxes were cut back wouldn’t a resulting shortfall in revenue need to be addressed? Yes, in the long term. (Economists are diagnosing the economy to be troubled by a lack of consumer demand so pumping income into consumers’ pockets without addressing it immediately might make sense right now.) But it would not necessarily need to be addressed in the immediate term, during a bad economy, when we are deficit financing all sorts of other things like the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Where would the foregone payroll taxes be made up? Anywhere that makes sense. Arguments are being made that the wealthy, the corporations, and the profits they are making should not be taxed because they are the nation’s self-described “job creators” even if, when given the opportunity, they choose to do other things with their extra cash rather than create jobs. Instead of trying to create jobs by not taxing income flowing to wealthy theoretical job creators, it makes sense simply to tax actual job creation less by eliminating payroll taxes.

Payroll Taxes vs. Income Taxes: The Wealthy vs. the Rest of Us

What if it was decided that the resulting shortfall in revenue could be made up nowhere except by an increase in income taxes? Would increased income taxes wind up being essentially just a reversal of the cut on payroll taxes? Are payroll taxes just the same as income taxes? No: Income taxes include taxes on capital gains and investment income. Further, income taxes can and should be progressive with the wealthier paying at a higher rate than the poor and middle class. Payroll taxes are regressive with the poor and middle class paying a higher percentage of their taxed pay than the wealthy.

Don’t taxes on income, like taxes on payroll, result in less employment when people don't seek employment because the salary paid in income will be taxed? Are income taxes paid by an employee securing employment the same as payroll taxes that must be paid by an employer providing that employee employment? . . .

. . . That can get into the lengthy and abstruse arguments economists engage in when they debate where the “incidence” of a tax (or subsidy) falls, who actually pays a tax when a transaction between two parties is made subject to that tax whether or not one or the other party is nominally considered responsible for paying it. But, the ultimate answer is complicated and also tied up with complex psychology. Among other things the employee is for various reasons likely to value a job for the sake of the job itself, not just the income. Even when income is taxed progressively at a higher rate at the higher end of the spectrum it is doubtful that an individual would want to be significantly less successful or productive just because he was paying more taxes.

Obama Has Suggested Lower Payroll Taxes

Obama has proposed temporarily cutting payroll taxes. (Remember it was suggested above that to be effective any such cut should be long-term.) One might consider that Obama's proposal has, to date, been under-reported and under-analyzed. For more on this see:
Obama Challenges Congress on Job Plan, by Mark Landler, September 8, 2011

Old Tax Relief Seen as Anchor in Obama Plan, by Jackie Calmes, September 6, 2011

September 14, 2011, How Payroll Tax Cuts Can Create Jobs, by Casey B. Mulligan

News Analysis, Plan’s Focus on Social Security Taxes Reflects Its Modest Ambitions, by Binyamin Applebaum, September 8, 2011

Politifact: Barack Obama on Monday, September 5th, 2011 in a Labor Day speech in Detroit: Barack Obama says payroll tax cut has boosted average family income by $1,000
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has weighed in with a brief article supporting a reduction of payroll taxes although the precision with which he suggests parameters is perhaps somewhat limiting to the imagination: Reich: Eliminate payroll taxes to improve economy, Marketplace, Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

Why Does the Republican Opposition Dislike Reducing These Taxes?

President Obama has tweaked the Republican opposition for being philosophically inconsistent in not supporting lower payroll taxes: After all, aren’t these Republican supposed to be opposed to taxes in general, even routinely signing on to anti-oaths?

There are reasons for the Republican opposition to oppose reduction of the payroll tax, reasons other than that they want to reflexively oppose Obama about everything, and beyond the fact that many Republican's likely have no interest in seeing the economy improve before the upcoming general election. Here are two points. (Does it let the cat out of bag to offer this analysis that others don’t seem to be offering elsewhere?)

One reason for Republicans to oppose payroll tax elimination is that a shift away from dependence on payroll tax revenue could result in a shift that winds up with lower taxes on most low- and middle-income wage earners and higher taxes on the income of the wealthy, replacing regressive payroll taxes with more progressive taxes on investments and capital gains.

The other reason the elite of Republican party leadership likely don’t want such a change in the payroll tax system is that there are many within the party who have their eye on handing a gift to Wall Street by unwinding Social Security and redirecting to Wall Street the contributions that are currently paid into the Social Security Trust Fund. Turning the investment of these vast sums over to Wall Street's brokers would be a much more expensive system than we have now, ridden with risks and a potential for fraud that doesn’t currently exist. That, however, is what some Republicans have their eyes on. If payments currently going into the trust fund became untethered from the payroll tax payments that now come in from individual workers (and were replaced with deposits that clearly came directly from government), Republicans would have a much harder time arguing for and trying to implement their desired switch over to a Wall Street benefit-based system.

Not a Panacea, Only a Start

While reduction or elimination of payroll taxes is the first most obvious tax to eliminate to increase employment, it would not be a panacea. It would not be a panacea because of the structural problems that need to be addressed in the American economy today. But to the extent that some of those problems are tied in with an increasingly skewed distribution of wealth it might begin to address at least some of those structural problems. Historically, skewed distribution of wealth and a lack of regulation of the activities of the wealthy and the financial sector have accompanied significant economic downturns like the Great Depression. We’ll have to leave off here though. The country’s ability to address its problems through versatility, innovation and the generation of new industries when it is faced with the increasing prevalence of lumbering (government-assisted) conglomerates and monopolies is a discussion for another day.