Monthly Archives: October 2011

It’s not gout, you b!

Jesus And The OWS Movement

I've read some pretty bone-headed criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and laughed them off as mostly misinformed.  But nothing — NOTHING — comes close to the recent piece by Bryan Fischer, the Director of Issue Analysis as the American Family Association.  This is a glorious example of meathead-ary.

Writing in Rightly Concerned, Fischer argues that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are disobeying “God’s moral law” and are “driven by a dark, bitter, resentful, angry and acquisitive greed.” “Jesus took a whip to the thieves and the covetous in his day,” Fischer writes. “If he were to come back and do the same thing today, he just might start in Zuccotti Park.”

Let's have some fun, shall we?

A CNN anchor asked earlier this week whether or  not Jesus would occupy Wall Street. 

That question can be answered with a categorical “No.” 

First, Jesus has no truck with rank, blatant hypocrites. The OWS crowd has now fallen to squabbling over who gets a slice of the $500,000 which has been donated to them, and which, by the way, they put in one of the evil, greedy banks they are out to destroy.

And the OWS crowd is thinking about incorporating! In other words, they’re about to become one of the evil corporations they claim to detest, as the Occupy Portland folks have already done. 

Okay, Bryan.  I'm going to stop you right there before you embarrass yourself more.  Get a pencil and paper and write this down:

The Occupy Wall Street movement isn't opposed to banks or corporations per se.  They don't want to do away with them entirely, or even a little bit.  They simply want them act responsibily and morally — you know, not to be thieves themselves.  They want them to be regulated so that they can't engage in the fraudulent excesses that brought this country down.

As for the $500,000 in donations — what should the OWS crowd do?  Carry it around as cash in plastic bags?

Don't be an idiot.

And they’re royally hacked off at the vagrant homeless types trying to cadge free food from them. They’re going to feed them brown rice gruel this weekend instead of spaghetti bolognese to show them the depths of their compassion for the poor and downtrodden. No more soup for you! 

Source?  No, I didn't think so.

Besides, you're contradicting yourself in the space of a couple sentences.  The OWS people have "royally hacked off" the homeless AND they are giving them free food?  Which is it?

So all of sudden that sharing the wealth business has lost its appeal. They’re tired of people freeloading off of them and taking advantage of them. To which we say, welcome to our world.

The world of Jesus, you mean?  Jesus hated freeloaders too, I suppose.  Kind of confuses me about the fish-into-loaves-of-bread thing, but I guess you can make any douchebag point you want if you selectively use the Bible. 

Now you know why we have lost patience with all of liberalism and the entire welfare system. 

So the OWSers want the greedy, evil corporations to share the wealth with them, but they don’t want to share their wealth with anybody, especially with the poor and needy flooding into their squatters’ camps. I’m sure Jesus would be happy to address the OWS crowd, and he’d probably begin his remarks with the scathing use of the word “hypocrites.” 

Wait, wait, wait.  Are we talking about the same Jesus here?  The Jesus that threw over the tables of the greedy moneychangers in the temple and got medieval on their asses?  The Jesus who said that a rich man has about as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel does getting through the eye of a needle? That Jesus?  Are you telling me that Jesus would be on board with the 1%ers?

Secondly, Jesus has no truck with those whose entire agenda is to flagrantly disobey two of the Ten Commandments of God. 

Really.  The entire agenda.  Funny I didn't see any signs about the Ten Commandments at all.

God said, “Thou shalt not steal,” a commandment Jesus affirmed on numerous occasions. Stealing is wrong, and it doesn’t make it right when government does it under color of law.  

Is stealing right when corporations do it and governments look the other way?  Just curious.

But the OWS crowd wants to use the coercive power of government to take resources from some and involuntarily redistribute it to others. Namely, them. When government confiscates wealth by force from some citizens and transfers that wealth to others, that’s not welfare and it’s not compassion. It is nothing less than legalized plunder. 

Oh, Bryan.  You're soooo close.  The problem is… you have your scorecard upside down.

What happened is that the government bailed out banks and financial institutions.  And the CEOs took that money, and gave themselves huge bonuses, after fucking up not only their businesses but the entire economy.  And where did the government bailout come from?  Us! You!  The OWS crowd!  The Tea Party crowd!

In short, the wealth distribution already happened.  It went from hard-working Americans (involuntarily) on "Main Street" to incompetent Wall Street bigwigs.  And you're right about one thing — tt was nothing less than legalized plunder, Bryan.  

Jesus teaches the redistribution of wealth – as long as the transfer is voluntary.

Uh, no he doesn't.  Where in the Bible does he talk about voluntary weath distribution, bro?  (You're making up things again, Arnold…)

But he is adamantly opposed to the involuntary redistribution of wealth, because that violates the moral law of God and is profoundly wrong.

Wait a second.  If you disobey God's commandments, you go to hell, right?  So when I'm commanded by God to "Love thy neighbor", doesn't that require that I redistribute my wealth?  You know, the whole bit about, "If a man asks you for your shirt, give him your coat as well"?  And if I'm doing so under threat of eternal damnation, am I really doing it "voluntarily"?

Do you really think, Bryan, that Jesus would be in the boardrooms of Goldman Sachs, as opposed to with the Occupiers in body and spirit?

His words to take care of the poor are not addressed to government, they are addressed to us. 

This from the guy who wants the government to put bibles in the schools, and who thinks this is a Christian Nation forged by our forefathers to promote the Judeo-Christian ideals.  Yes…. apparently, the government is supposed to further Christian causes, just not ACT like a Christian.  (Bryan, what were you saying earlier about "hypocrites"?)

But I'll set that aside.  Guess what?  We control the government.  And if there is a popular movement broad and deep enough which mandates that we take care of the poor (which we do anyway, like it or not, through various safety nets like Social Security and Medicare and public housing), then it shall be done.  That's called democracy.

Besides, the OWS people aren't demanding redistribution of wealth.  They're not asking that the executives of Goldman Sachs come down from the Wall Street offices and hand out cash.  They are simply asking that financial institutions be regulated so that they can't pick the pocket of the average working man, and essentially commit fraud.  A fair shake.

And the OWS crowd is animated by a thoroughly ugly disregard for the 10th Commandment as well. God says, “Thou shalt not covet…any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” And yet the Occupiers are driven by a dark, bitter, resentful, angry and acquisitive greed for stuff that belongs to other people. 

WTF?

That's simply not true, of course.  Many in the movement are, for example, artists.  They recognize that their profession will not lead to being in the top 1% of all income earners, and they are totally fine with that.  This isn't about coveting the rich and taking the rich's money; it's about the greed OF the rich.

I submit that no political program that is predicated on a violation of twenty percent of God’s moral law can possibly be right, can possibly work, or can possibly be good for America. 

Wow.  Brilliant.

Jesus took a whip to the thieves and the covetous in his day. If he were to come back and do the same thing today, he just might start in Zuccotti Park.

In other words, he might occupy Wall Street after all. 

I see.  So Jesus — the guy who said "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" — the guy who was whipped and tortured before being nailed to a cross — if he were on Earth today, he would walk through Zuccotti Park with a whip, flailing on the people who seek economic justice?

Dude, your Jesus sucks.

It’s quiet today……… TOO quiet.

“The Well-Lubricated Weather Vane”

That's what GOP presidential contender Jim Huntsman says of Mitt Romney, who is becoming famous for brash flip-flops.  I mean, it's one thing to have an evolution of your ideas over the span of several decades, but Romney just does complete 180-degree turns in months, even weeks.  It's really hurting his campaign and credibility, and yet, here he is today, doing it again.

Here's Romney in June 2011, just five months ago, in Manchester NH:

"I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

"It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors."

And here's Romney yesterday, speaking at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.:

"My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet… And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."

Look, I know how we can provide plenty of clean energy for all, while reducing our reliance on foreign oil, AND keep the panet green: Hook an electric generator up to Mitt Romney and harness the energy that comes from his flipping and flopping back and forth.  (Note to television and radio commenter and pundits:  Go ahead.  Use it.  It's what I'm here for.)

1%

I saw a headline in which Michael Moore admits he is in the 1% (the top 1% of income-earners in this country).  Of course, he's within the 1% in monetary terms only.  He's with us 99 percenters in every other respect.

"Wait", I thought.  "Just how do you know what percent you are?"

Ah, thank you Wall Street Journal.

I'm an 81%er.  Trust me, you wouldn't know it to look at me or my lifestyle.  But I guess that's the point — the gap between the top 1% and those below (including me at the 81% level) is huuuuuuge.

FYI: An annual salary above $506,000 puts you in the top 1%, while you need to make less than $2,500 a year to be in the bottom 1%.

It’s Getting Crowded

When I was born, I was the 3,167,000,594th person.  How do I know?  This site told me.

Bornme

Even with people dying (e.g., Steve Jobs), there are now twice as many people on Earth as when I was born.  More than twice.  In fact, I was (roughly) the 3 billionth person born, and we're expecting the 7 billionth person any day now.  

Seven billion people alive on the planet.  Right now.

That's especially remarkable when you consider that there are only 76 billlion people who have ever existed in all of human history.  In other words, 10% of all people who have ever been alive, are alive NOW.

Move over.  You're in my space.

Ever want to click on someone else’s status and edit it for them?

A Good Chart ‘Splains A Lot

Okay, follow me on this.  It's not too difficult.

We all know that there has been overall economic growth in the past two decades.  But the complaint of the OWS movement it that overall economic growth does not raise all boats of the economic stratosphere.  Conservatives, on the other hand, will try to tell you that because of trickle-down economics, when the wealthy benefit, everyone does.

Who's right?  Well, this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells us the OWS folks are right.  What is the chart?  It's a chart that compares how much income various groups make today vs. how much they would be making if everyone's incomes, rich and poor alike, had grown at similar rates since 1979.

So, for example, if you are in the bottom 20% of the income scale, you have $5,623 less per year than you would have if all income groups had benefitted equally from the economic boom.  That's the price that the bottom 20% "pay" for the growing plutocracy.  

As you can see, by 2005 the bottom 80% were collectively earning about $743 billion less per year while the top 1% were earning about $673 billion more. It's sort of uncanny how close those numbers are. For all practical purposes, every year about $700 billion in income is being sucked directly out of the hands of the poor and the middle class and shoveled into the hands of the rich.

Some might argue, "Well, it is the wealthiest people who created the economic boom over the past twenty years, so of course their percentage should be higher."  

There are two responses to that.  One from Elizabeth Warren:

The more complete answer though, in my view, comes from Matt Tiabbi and others who note that the economic progress was actually created not from innovation and winning business strategies, but from cheating.

1)  While ordinary people have to borrow their money at market rates, multi-millionaires like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon get billions of dollars for free, from the Federal Reserve. 

2)  If you or I miss a $7 payment on a Gap card or, heaven forbid, a mortgage payment, you can forget about the great computer in the sky ever overlooking your mistake. But serial financial fuckups like Citigroup and Bank of America overextended themselves by the hundreds of billions and pumped trillions of dollars of deadly leverage into the system — and got rewarded with things like the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, an FDIC plan that allowed irresponsible banks to borrow against the government's credit rating.

3)  When a homeowner screws up and can't pay a mortgage, they get foreclosed on.  But time after time, when big banks screw up and make irresponsible bets that blow up in their faces, they've scored bailouts.

4)  And of course, the tax situation:

Bankers on Wall Street pay lower tax rates than most car mechanics. When Warren Buffet released his tax information, we learned that with taxable income of $39 million, he paid $6.9 million in taxes last year, a tax rate of about 17.4%.

Most of Buffet’s income, it seems, was taxed as either "carried interest" (i.e. hedge-fund income) or long-term capital gains, both of which carry 15% tax rates, half of what many of the Zucotti park protesters will pay.  

As for the banks, as companies, we've all heard the stories. Goldman, Sachs in 2008 – this was the same year the bank reported $2.9 billion in profits, and paid out over $10 billion in compensation —  paid just $14 million in taxes, a 1% tax rate.

Bank of America last year paid not a single dollar in taxes — in fact, it received a "tax credit" of $1 billion. There are a slew of troubled companies that will not be paying taxes for years, including Citigroup and CIT.

When GM bought the finance company AmeriCredit, it was able to marry its long-term losses to AmeriCredit's revenue stream, creating a tax windfall worth as much as $5 billion. So even though AmeriCredit is expected to post earnings of $8-$12 billion in the next decade or so, it likely won't pay any taxes during that time, because its revenue will be offset by GM's losses.

Thank God our government decided to pledge $50 billion of your tax dollars to a rescue of General Motors! You just paid for one of the world's biggest tax breaks.

So when you add all these things together, you learn that the rules are rigged so that the rich can generate wealth for themselves — incredible wealth — not by providing better products and services, but by simply playing a game where the rules that apply to the rest of us don't apply to them.

And if you need a more blatent example, there's this: the raiding of employee pension funds for corporate profit — literally taking money from the little guy and putting into into the big guy's pockets.  Happens all the time, according to Ellen Schultz – an award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers.

Corporations have been "exaggerating their retiree burdens" and plundering retirement plans in a variety of ways, including:

  • Siphon billions of dollars from their pension plans to finance downsizings and sell the assets in merger deals.
  • Overstate the burden of rank-and-file retiree obligations to justify benefits cuts, while simultaneously using the savings to inflate executive pay and pensions.
  • Hide growing executive pension liabilities, which at some companies now exceed the liabilities for the regular pension plans.
  • Purchase billions of dollars of life insurance on workers and use the policies as informal executive pension funds. When the insured workers and retirees die, the company collects tax-free death benefits.
  • Exclude millions of low-paid workers from 401(k)'s to make the plans more valuable to the top-paid.

According to Schultz, these and related measures have become commonplace among Fortune 500 companies, including AT&T, Bank of America, JP Morgan, IBM, Cigna, General Motors, GM, Comcast, UPS and the NFL, just to name a few.

And that's what OWS is all about.

Kids & TV

Here's the latest data from Common Sense Media about the media diets of young children in America.   

I'm kind of surprised that we have one year olds watching an hour of TV every day.  Yeah, no ADD problems for them in the future.  One year olds — can they even focus?

Other interesting findings:

  • 30% of kids under two have a TV in their bedroom.
  • Only about 60% of kids read or are read to every day. More reading, please.
  • 92% of high-income kids have high-speed cable. Only 42% of low-income kids do. The divide is about the same along the educational spectrum.

More at the link.

 

Not Just Warren Buffet

WSJ reports:

A new survey from Spectrem Group found that 68% of millionaires (those with investments of $1 million or more)  support raising taxes on those with $1 million or more in income. Fully 61% of those with net worths of $5 million or more support the tax on million-plus earners.

So the lower and middle AND wealthiest classes all support a tax on the millionaires.  It's unanimous.

Yet, the GOP-controlled Congress simply refuses to do it.

Related:  The favorability rating of Congress is at an historical low of 9%.

Yes, that's related.

Harsh But True <> “Ad Hominem”

In a brilliant piece yesterday, Paul Krugman gives voice to a phenomenon that I, too have noticed lately, to wit, that rightwing commentators, pundits and bloggers (Patterico's Pontifications, I'm looking at you!) can't tell the difference between a valid, albiet brutializing, policy argument, and an "ad hominem" argument where you just call someone a name.  Paul, you have the floor:

Greg Sargent takes us to Paul Ryan’s latest speech, in which Ryan expresses outrage over what President Obama is saying:

 

Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, “dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.” Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?

 

Just for the record: why is this petty? Why is it anything but a literal description of GOP proposals to weaken environmental regulation and repeal the Affordable Care Act?

 

I mean, to the extent that the GOP has a coherent case on environmental regulation, it is that the economic payoff from weaker regulation would more than compensate for the dirtier air and water. Is anyone really claiming that less regulation won’t mean more pollution?

 

And Republicans have not proposed anything that would make up for the loss of the measures in the ACA that would lead to more people being insured. Let me also point out that whatever else you think of it, Romneycare — which is essentially the same as the ACA — clearly has sharply reduced the number of uninsured people in Massachusetts.

 

So Ryan is outraged,outraged, that Obama is offering a wholly accurate description of his party’s platform.

 

Let me add that this illustrates a point that many commenters here don’t seem to get: criticism of policy proposals is not the same thing as ad hominem attacks. If I say that Paul Ryan’s mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries, that’s ad hominem. If I say that his plan would hurt millions of people and that he’s not being honest about the numbers, that’s harsh, but not ad hominem.

 

And you really have to be somewhat awed when people who routinely accuse Obama of being a socialist get all weepy over him saying that eliminating protections against pollution would lead to more pollution.

Emphasis mine.  Touche, Paul.

Republican-to-English Dictionary

[I]n the hopes of facilitating cross-party dialogue and mutual understanding, I have compiled what I believe to be the first comprehensive Republican-to-English dictionary, featuring words commonly used by Republicans, and their English translations, alphabetized for your convenience:

  • America (United States of): A country located in the N. Western Hemisphere that is #1.
  • Bible: A sacred text that provides incontestable answers when thumped.
  • Birth Certificate: An official birth record required of all US Presidents, regardless of race, since 2008.
  • Capitalism: A system of economic organization that has never been attempted.
  • Christmas: A holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, now rarely celebrated due to persecution by atheists.
  • Compromise: (uncommon) A form of political suicide.
  • Coast (East): A very bad coast of the continental United States.
  • Coast (West): Another really inexcusable coast.
  • Communism: The belief that the government should ever do anything.
  • Condescending: Accurately informed.
  • Constitution (U.S.): The hallowed founding document of the United States, the text of which must be interpreted strictly and amended immediately.
  • Corporations: Large people who are overtaxed.
  • Deficits: 1) Fiscal shortfalls incurred by Democrats that threaten to bankrupt the country. 2) Fiscal shortfalls incurred by Republicans that don't matter.
  • Democrat: A political party.
  • Election: A method of selecting representatives, the fraudulence of which may be determined by the outcome.
  • Elitist: Qualified.
  • Endangered Species: Animals that have it coming.
  • Evolution: A theory of human origins that is out there.
  • Extremist (Liberal): Espousing or adhering to political beliefs that are held by only a majority of Americans.
  • Fact: Information that has been verifiably posted to a RedState comment board.
  • Forest (National): Trees that have it coming.
  • Gut: Region of the body from which decisions should be made.
  • Homosexuality: A membership-only lifestyle organization that perpetuates itself through youth recruitment.
  • Hitler: A man to whom it would be inappropriate to compare President Obama in spite of the many uncanny similarities.
  • Jesus: Charismatic religious leader and son of God; born in Bethlehem in the year 0; beliefs include love, charity, enhanced interrogation, privatized healthcare, elimination of the estate tax, and the right to carry concealed semiautomatic weapons.
  • League (Ivy): an association of eight Eastern universities and colleges, the lack of a fancy education from which qualifies a candidate for political office.
  • Liberal: A person who should be rounded up and shot but not really.
  • Marxism: A political and economic philosophy developed by Karl Marx and promulgated by Paul Krugman.
  • Media (Mainstream): Where you won't hear things.
  • Medicare: A fraudulent, socialistic boondoggle that is sacrosanct.
  • Mexicans: Brown people who have it coming.
  • Mountaintops: Ancient rock formations that have it coming.
  • Muslims: Brown people who have it coming.
  • News: Fox News
  • Obamacare: A Federally-mandated policy to address the national oversupply of grandparents through euthanasia.
  • Organic: Eaten by lesbians.
  • Party (Tea): A grass-roots movement of patriotic Americans fighting for the principle of "No Taxation With Representation."
  • Poll: A survey used to determine, to within a margin of error, what percentage of Americans are right.
  • Poverty: The condition of having inadequate financial or material resources due to not trying hard enough.
  • Propaganda: The politically motivated dissemination of biased information, opinion, or data through its publication in the New York Times.
  • Punishment (Capital): The legally authorized killing by the State of someone who is definitely guilty.
  • Racism: A form of discrimination that typically happens in reverse.
  • Regulation: Rules issued by a government agency for no reason.
  • Ronald Reagan: A fictional character based loosely on President Ronald Reagan.
  • Scientist: A person who employs a rigorous system of observation, experiment, measurement, and verification to perpetuate his Godless left-wing agenda.
  • Social Security: A redistributionist Ponzi scheme that is sacrosanct.
  • Socialism: An economic system invented by FDR.
  • Taxes: Levies imposed by the government that raise more revenue the lower they are.
  • Torture: A method of interrogation that does not rise to the level of torture.
  • Terrorist: A person to whom a person who threatens to destroy the U.S. economy unless his demands are met should not be compared.
  • Unbiased: Giving equal weight to both sides of the looking glass.
  • Wealthy (the): People who earned every penny.
  • Up: A direction which, depending on circumstances, is down.
  • Warming (Global): An anomalous, anthropogenic increase in the earth's atmospheric and oceanic temperatures that isn't happening.
  • Welfare: A government program to distribute Cadillacs to unwed mothers.
  • Yes: (no translation available)

- Jonathan Bines, Jimmy Kimmel staff writer at the Huffington Post

Food For Thought

Lawyers, journalists, investment bankers — they are liabilities, not leaders, in the zombie-infested world….

In the zombie apocalypse, your J.D. is worthless — which is actually not so different from the real world of recent years.

– Torie Bosch, in a thought-provoking Slate article entitled First, Eat All the Lawyers, arguing that the boom in zombie-related entertainment reflects, and is fueled by, the economic anxieties of white-collar workers.

 

On The Other Hand….

My praise of the OWS site still stands, but it's this kind of nonsensical infighting – tension growing between those who want to bang their drum all day (literally) and everybody else — that's going to make OWS a bit of a laughing stock.

Where do I come down on this?  Well, when I visited, the drumming circles weren't playing.  Drumming circles are cool and all (not really, I find them to be annoying and its practitioners very elitist, like jazz musicians), but hardly a necessary component of the movement.  If they drown out actual conversation and dialogue, which (I would think) is one of the main goals of the "occupation", then they are counter-productive.  Or perhaps I should say, as one commenter wrote, "Noise pollution, from drumming to rap to rock to folk to opera, is the province of assholes. Do your thing without space-invading. Contribute without co-opting."

102511occupy3

One hopes that the General Assembly has bigger things to deal with.

Zombies Pump $5 Billion Into The Economy

Not the zombies themselves, mind you.  I suspect that zombies spend very little cash.

But zombie things add $5 billion to the economy, according to the website 24/7 Wall Street.  They explain:

Think way beyond zombie movie ticket sales. Think about DVD sales, video games, comic books, novels, Halloween costumes, zombie walks, merchandise, conventions and even zombie art. Add to that all of the websites, homemade movies, Facebook sites, YouTube sites and other forms of "digital" zombies, not to mention music. And if you think the financial tab has been high so far, by the end of 2012 the tab is going to be far larger.

The breakdown?

  • Movies: $2.5 billion.
  • Video games: $2.5 billion.
  • Comic books, magazines, TV: $50 million.
  • Halloween costumes: $500 million over four years.
  • Books: $100 million.
  • Merchandise: $50 million.
  • Conventions, events, walks: $10 million.
  • Digital world: $10 million.
  • Music: $10 million.
  • Art: $10 million.

 

NOM Uses Obama Crowd Photos In New Hampshire Ad

See if you can spot any similarities in this website, which is a website that the National Organization for Marriage has put up to end same-sex marriage in New Hampshire…

NOM-NH

and this website post, which is about the crowds who turned out for an Obama rally in November 2008 in Columbus Ohio:

OHIO-rally

Hint: look in the lower left hand corner of each picture.

It's an obvious attempt to make NOM appear to be popular and formidable than it actually is.  I mean, when you have to borrow crowds…

RELATED:  In a vote of 11-6, the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee has voted to accept a sub-committee’s recommendation and approved a mesure to repeal the state’s 2009 marriage equality law. The full House is expected to take-up the issue in January.

Broadway Reviews In Brief

Sister Act

Saw it last Friday with Tony nominee Patina Miller as Delores Van Cartier (the "Whoopi Goldberg role"), but without Victoria Clark (Tony Winner for Light on the Piazza) as Mother Superior.  I had low expectations for this show, thinking it would be fluff.  But the book was far better than I expected, the music was very good, and the cast simply went all-out.  Minor charactors, particularly the villians after Delores, were much more fleshed out in this production, and they had some show-stopping numbers themselves. 4/5 stars.

Sleep No More

I didn't know what to expect from this off-Broadway "emursion" theater experience, which is a telling of the MacBeth story.  And having gone through it, I still don't know what to make of it.

For those who know nothing of Sleep No More, you attend the show in the McKittrick Hotel.  Completed in 1939, thoe hotel was intended to be New York City's finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public… until this show came along.

So the "show" takes place throughout the hotel.  Audience members are sheparded inside, in groups of twenty or so, and distributed throughout the hotel to explore.  All audience members wear white masks.  There is no talking, even among the "actors".  Audience members are encouraged to break from their groups and explore freely.

So I started out on the third floor (of five stories).  The entire hotel is very dimly lit, and throughout the hotel, you hear the wind blowing loudly, as well as low cellos grinding away.  If this sounds llike a haunted house, you would be wrong.  Nothing jumps out at you, and I didn't hear a scream the entire night.  But it is very creepy.

Various scenes of Macbeth are acted throughout the hotel by the perfomers, on a "loop".  The show's creators did not envision any particular way to watch the show — some people chose to follow a charactor (say, Lady Macbeth); others simply chose to travel around the hotel as one would an art exhibit.

At one point, I found myself on a balcony overlooking a very large ballroom.  There were three or four other ghosts on the ballroom ("ghosts" are other audience members, since that's what you look like wearing a mask).  I walked downstairs into the ballroom.  There was some table with food on it, and other interesting items.  I left the ballroom to explore more of the second floor.  About five minutes later, I heard jazz music coming from afar.  I followed it, and found myself back in the ballroom.  Except this time, it was filled with about 20 actors dancing, and about 100 "ghosts".  It was the scene where Lady Macbeth is throwing a party (the "Macbeth" play is set in the 1920's).

  OB-NO379_alick_E_20110419143300

The whole evening was filled with moments of wonder and strangeness like this.  Later on in the evening, I walked into a large room that was filled with nothing but bathtubs, about ten of them.  I was all alone.  Then Lady Macbeth walked in, naked, walked right by me and got into a bathtub, mumbling something to herself.  The two of us were there, alone, for about two minutes as she bathed herself.  Eventually, other "ghosts" haphazardly discovered the room, and we all watched Lady Macbeth bathe (the braver ghosts would sit on the edge of the bathtub).

Strange?  Intensely.  Memorable?  Without a doubt.  Entertaining?  Well….. I'm not so sure.  This was not a theatrical piece as much as it was "modern art", using actors as moving set pieces.  At times, I found it frustrating, if only because you weren't really told how to watch this "show".  But I guess that was what they were going for.

Cool thing: you get to keep your mask.

The Book of Mormon

Yeah, it deserved every Tony it got.  And I say that even though Josh Gad wasn't in the performance I saw.

As I was watching the show, I was struck by how much the story is just like a reverse-Sister Act.  Instead of an earthy black street woman finding herself inside a religious place (a nun's convent), B of M is about religious people (Mormon missionaries) finding themselves in an earthy black country (Uganda).  But unlike Sister Act, the humor is NOT family-friendly.  It's what you would expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of "South Park").  I'm not huge fans of those guys — I tend to think their shock humor is done just to be shocking — but it actually works well here.  It brings the fish out of water comedy to an entirely new level of humor and discomfort.

Wonderful staging of all the numbers (except possibly the Mormon Hell Dream song, which seems a little superfluous), and fantastic performances, especially from Andrew Rannells and Nikki M. James.  So flawless were these two that you almost felt like you were listening to the soundtrack.

War Horse

It's understandable why this play won best play, as well as awards for lighting and sound design.

Although the plot is rather simplistic (it's based on a children's book) — boy gets horse, boy loses horse to wartime, boy and horse are miraculously reunited after wartime — the way it is told is never dull.  Of course, the real star of the show is the puppetry of the horse itself.  Fluid and beautiful to watch. It breathes, its ears flick the flies, its wonderful to see.

I expect the Spielberg movie to do well, although it will be sad (a little) when they use real horses)

 

Godspell

Technically, this show is in previews.  Hunter Parrish (Weeds, Spring Awakening), who plays Jesus, told me it's not being "locked down" until November 5.  Of course, with a play that relies on improvisation as much as Godspell, "locked down" is a relative term.  The musical based on the gospel of St Matthew makes use of plenty of contemporary references, such as Ghadafi being in hell, Steve Jobs being in heaven (where the angels have iPads), and Occupy Wall Street (placed appropriately in a parable about rich men and poor men).

This is not the Godspell of the 1970s.  In fact, while dressing up Jesus during the opening "Prepare Ye", a cast member hands him a T-shirt with a Superman logo.  Jesus waves it off.  He wears blues jeans and a white dress shirt.  The other cast members do sport "clown costumes" but gone is the face makeup.

The staging often involves the use of trap doors built into the stage.  Open them up, and there's a pool for bapitisms.  Another time, it's nine trampolines for each member to jump (high!) on.

But the real change is the orchestration of the songs.  Played by band mambers who literally sit in the audience, the show has a very different sound.  Some of the pop numbers are now most definitely "rock" — you can here the spirit of American Idiot in them.  Some of the ballads are voiced for different singing voices.  It's all very very NEW, even if it is much the same Godspell that we know and love.

Below:

The cast in trampolines singing "We Beseech Thee", "Learn Your Lessons Well" and "Day by Day"

Godspell tramps

Godspell more

Godspell day by day

Climate Change Skeptic Scientist Walks It Back Bigtime

Eugeine Robinson at WaPo tells us:

Richard Muller, a respected physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, used to dismiss alarmist climate research as being “polluted by political and activist frenzy.” Frustrated at what he considered shoddy science, Muller launched his own comprehensive study to set the record straight. Instead, the record set him straight.

“Global warming is real,” Muller wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal.

Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the neo-Luddites who are turning the GOP into the anti-science party should pay attention.

“When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find,” Muller wrote. “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that.”

In other words, the deniers’ claims about the alleged sloppiness or fraudulence of climate science are wrong. Muller’s team, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, rigorously explored the specific objections raised by skeptics — and found them groundless.

Muller and his fellow researchers examined an enormous data set of observed temperatures from monitoring stations around the world and concluded that the average land temperature has risen 1 degree Celsius — or about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit — since the mid-1950s.

This agrees with the increase estimated by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Muller’s figures also conform with the estimates of those British and American researchers whose catty e-mails were the basis for the alleged “Climategate” scandal, which was never a scandal in the first place.

The Berkeley group’s research even confirms the infamous “hockey stick” graph— showing a sharp recent temperature rise — that Muller once snarkily called “the poster child of the global warming community.” Muller’s new graph isn’t just similar, it’s identical.

Welcome to the real world, Professor Muller.

I’m Down With OWS (Yeah, You Know Me)

I was in NYC this past weekend, and decided to visit the folks at Occupy Wall Street to see for myself what it was all about.

First of all, although I used to work in that area of Manhatten, it's been almost ten years since I've been in that part of the city.  The last time I went was in late October 2001, when the towers were still smoldering.

Now, of course, the area is being rebuilt, and the Freedom Tower towers over the other skyscrapers in the area.

The 9-11 memorial is accessible with a pass, which are sold out months in advance.  You can't even see it from elsewhere in the area (unless you are in a tall building).

I walked around the Winter Garden which had been restored to its former glory.  That's where this video (0:46) was taken — the 9/11 Memorial itself was in the distance:

 

At the Winter Garden, a retired fireman from Staten Island regaled a crowd of tourists with his very moving account of September 11, 2001.

And tourists were there in huge throngs.  Tourists, construction workers, and police, in equal parts.

But that was not my ultimate destination.  I was going to Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

First thing one should know: Zuccotti Park isn't really on, or that near to, Wall Street.  It is actually in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, a good 10-15 walk from the actual New York Stock Exchange.

The park itself is one square city block.  And it was jammed full.

The time of my visit was around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday (October 22).  I couldn't tell you how many protesters were there, as most of them were resting and/or asleep under tarps.

The video below is my walk through the park (1:51).  As you can see, it was mostly tarps (as actual tents were not allowed).

 

Aaaand TSA finds glitter in my shoe

I’ve got glitter down my shirt. – Intermission at Godspell

At least I know Hunter Parrish and Lindsay Mendez will be in Godspell this afternoon, because I just talked to them.

Even now, more than 10 years later, there’s a palpable urgency to get the World Financial Center area rebuilt. An entire 4 square miles …

Omfg. At Sleep No More

Break a leg to all the cast and crew of EVIL DEAD!

Shame

There are many sad aspects to the story I wrote about yesterday regarding the exotic animal farm owner in Ohio who killed himself after setting his animals free.

The saddest, of course, is that so many animals running out in the wild had to be killed.

This, for example, is a Regal Tiger.  Only 1400 of these magnificent creatures exist in the world today. Yesterday, they killed 18 of them in Ohio.

We also learn that the now-deceased wild animal owner was cited over and over again for animal cruelty and abuse.  And it begs the question: What kind of laws exist that allow someone to hold rare animals in capitivity?  And shouldn't the oversight of those animals be better?

How To Overthrow A Dictator

So with the (unconfirmed) news that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been killed, sounding the end of his 35 year brutal regime in Libya, now would be a good time to pull some lessons on how to actually do dictator-toppling.

Unilateral or coalition?

Iraq, under Bush:  The organized international community was against the War in Iraq, so Bush created what he called "the coalition of the willing".  It was hardly a coalition.  Most countries did not supply troops; in fact, most countries only joined the coalition in return for foreign aid (hence, "coalition of the billing").  It was 90% Anglo-American (mostly American), the U.S. ran the entire operation and made all military decisions, and by the end of the Iraq War, the U.S. was virtually the only nation involved.

Libya, under Obama:  A true coalition.  NATO forces, NATO-led.  In fact, the U.S. involvement was so under-the-radar that most Americans these past few months have been unaware that we were warring with Libya.  

Sidenote: When Obama announced our participation, he was in Brazil.  Conservative skewered him for being in another country when we were facing war in Libya, but they didn't understand that Obama's efforts to minimize our involvement were deliberate.  We were part of a team, not actiing unilaterally.

Time it took to depose leader

Iraq, under Bush: About nine months to depose Saddam (in December 2003)

Libya, under Obama:  About seven months to depose Gadhafi (today)

Time it took after leader was desposed for the U.S. military to be out of country

Iraq, under Bush:  Eight years and counting….

Libya, under Obama:  A few days from now at most

Reputation of United States as world leader as a result

Iraq, under Bush:  Tarnished, particularly among our closet allies

Libya, under Obama:  Not tarnished at all

Cost of engagement in terms of US tax money spent:

Iraq, under Bush:  $900 billion so far

Libya, under Obama:  $1 billion (the amount spent on Iraq every three days)

Cost of engagement in terms of US soldiers lives:

Iraq, under Bush: 4,500 dead; over 32,000 wounded (not including PTSD), and counting…

Libya, under Obama:  Zero dead, zero wounded.  None. Nada. Nyet. 

***********

To be fair, no two theaters of war are the same, and each one requires different tactics.  But that point was lost on the Bushies as they clamorred to invade Iraq.  They lied to the American people and told us it was be a quick cheap war (like the one Obama provided).  Some of us knew better.

Insomnia is making me its bitch.

The Demographics of OWS: Guess What? A Lot Have Jobs And A Good Income

Turns out, they are not made up of what you think:

Business analyst Harrison Schultz and professor Hector R. Cordero-Guzman from the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, today released a study based on a survey of 1,619 visitors to theoccupywallst.org site on October 5. And about a quarter of them have also attended occupation events. So they aren't all armchair activists.

Some of the results are to be expected. For example about 64% of respondents are younger than 34. But others back up the assertion made in the title of the report “Main Stream Support for a Mainstream Movement: The 99% Movement Comes From and Looks Like the 99%.”

Among the findings:

They aren’t all kids. Xers, Boomers, and older are also in on it: One-third of respondents is older than 35, and one-fifth is 45 or older.

It’s not all students and the educated elite. About 8% have, at best, a high school degree. And just about a quarter (26.7%) are enrolled in school. Only about 10% are full-time students.

“Get a job!” wouldn’t apply to most of them. Half of the respondents are already employed full-time, and an additional 20% work part-time. Just 13.1% are unemployed–not a whole lot more than the national average.

“Tax the rich!” could hit close to home. About 15% earn between $50,000 and $80,000 annually (pretty good anywhere except in Manhattan). Thirteen percent earn over $75,000 annually, and nearly 2% bring in more than $150,000.

It may be a party, but not that kind. The movement is often identified as a liberal, even Democrat-dominated cause. But just 27.3% of respondents call themselves Democrats (and 2.4% are Republican). And the rest, 70% call themselves independents.

Not everyone tweets. The microblogging site played a big role in getting the movement started. But that’s not how most people keep up with it. Twenty-nine percent of respondents are regular Twitter users. But 66% are Facebook regulars. The biggest online community, however, is YouTube, with about 74% being regular users.

 

Photo Of The Day

A sign along I-70 warns motorists that exotic animals are on the loose.

You don't see that roadsign very often in America.  The story behind is even more bizarre than the sign itself.

Before committing suicide, the owner of an exotic animal farm in Zanesville, Ohio, opened the doors and cut the wires to the cages of the wild animals.  Some of the animals, including leopards managed to "feast" on the owner's dead body and were present when authorities arrived at the animal farm.  But 48 other animals — chimps, wolves, bears, lions, etc. — managed to escape.

Read the whole story.

Teleprompter Racism

Oh, there's Aaron again.

Once again, he's bemoaning black unity and calling it "racism" again.  By Aaron's logic, women who want to see a woman as president (like Hillary), or a woman as vice-president (like Sarah) are sexist.  Clearly, like so many white Southern boys, Aaron has a hard time distinguishing pride in ones race, on the one hand, and the sterotyping and hatred of other races, on the other hand.  Just because the Klan made those two concepts synonymous doesn't mean they are synonymous, Aaron.

And not surprisingly, he doesn't see the racial overtones in continuing the myth that Obama's erudition comes from words put in his mouth via the teleprompter, ignoring the fact that his debate skills and interviews demonstrate that he has the innate and genuine verbal skills of the Harvard Law Review editor that he once was.

Pedantic bigotry at its best.

How’s Bank of America Doing?

Yesterday, I wrote about Bank of America's chutzpah in seeking to add a $5 monthly fee for use of the Bank of America debit card.  Sadly, BofA wasn't the only big bank contemplating this fee; there is evidence of a possible illegal collusion of big banks to charge customers new fees, just for the convenience of using their debit cards to spend their own money.  

What was the reason for the new fees?  The big banks cited "diminished profits," because now they can't charge exorbitant rates to merchants whose customers use those debit cards, rates than end up costing the consumer about $230 annually in passed-on price increases.

Let's look a little closer at these so-called diminished profits.

Bank of America reported a $6.2 billion profit for the third quarter as gains from the sale of assets like its stake in the China Construction Bank and positive accounting changes outweighed weaker results in its trading business and continued losses in its huge mortgage portfolio.[…]

The other major commercial banks that have reported earnings in recent days posted profits of around $4 billion each. Both Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase benefited from a $1.9 billion increase from the accounting change applied to the declining value of their company debt, posting profits of $3.8 billion and $4.3 billion, respectively. Wells Fargo had record earnings of $4.1 billion despite a 6 percent drop in revenue.

Banks are doing fine folks.  

As Expected…

The rightosphere is full of lots of stories, marginally documented, which aim to paint the entire OWS movement. 

You know what I mean… "There is a guy on Wall Street at the protesters shouting anti-Jewish slogans.  Therefore, the whole movement is anti-Zionist and probably socialist and communist as well."

(Interestingly, another meme from the right is that the whole movement is backed by George Soros.  Soros, a Jew.)

It's happened before.  When the Tea Party was at its apex, liberal bloggers and commenters (myself included) were quick to note extremely racist signs (as well as the lack of ethnic diversity).

But here's the difference.  There's tangible and overwhelming evidence that the supposed anti-semitism is isolated.  ADL National Director Abraham Foxman condemns those incidents, but acknowledges "we believe that these expressions are not representative of the larger views of the OWS movement."

But if you want tangible proof, here's a video. It was shot at the Wall Street demonstration on Yom Kippur Eve and it features not a few anti-Semites but thousands of Jews celebrating the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day dedicated to the same ideals as Occupy Wall Street: repentance for putting our desires before the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the exploited.

 

Perhaps one of the funniest misfires from the right comes from Pajamas Media, noting that many protesters are wearing a “neo-swastika power symbol”.  But as Charles Johnson mockingly points out, it's nothing but a Twitter hashtag symbol (see photo)

By the way, I happen to be going to NYC this weekend.  So I can report on it personally (since there is occupation in Times Square where I'll be).

Looks like I'm going to have some fun…

Watch live streaming video from occupynyc at livestream.com

 

By the way…. best protest sign:

The Funniest Walking Dead Season Two Premiere Tweets


@rainnwilson
RainnWilson
The women on The Walking Dead need to stop whining & crying all the time. Also, the cast needs to stop tripping & dropping things.

@crankfetter
Luke Wormfood

For the record, an undead walking cadaver can get through airport security like any other shuffling, glaze-eyed passenger.
@shanenickerson
Shane Nickerson

The RV in Walking Dead is the greatest hunk of junk character in a TV show or movie since the Millennium Falcon.

@LPizzle
Lamont Price

How many eps before the black dude gets killed? I say 3. He can't keep showing up with no lines except shit like "I got it!" #WalkingDead
@Goose
Chris.

If you switch back and forth fast enough between X-Factor and Walking Dead, you can forget which show has the zombies on it.
@lamottjackson
LaMott Jackson

They need to create a zombie that eats zombies. Problem solved. #WalkingDead
We're watching The Walking Dead during dinner. Ravioli was a bad choice.
@TheBosha
The Bosha

Tonight is the season 2 premier of 'The Walking Dead,' which has replaced 'Mad Men' as the series I most relate to on a personal level.
@LouisPeitzman
Louis Peitzman

When the zombie apocalypse comes, don't hesitate to leave me for dead. I'm a practical guy: I won't be offended!
@LPizzle
Lamont Price

My smoke alarm is going off right as #WalkingDead is getting good. Looks like im burning to death tonight, gang
@morgan_murphy
Morgan Murphy

AMC's slogan should just be, "if you're in an RV, some major shit has gone down in your life." #BreakingBad#WalkingDead
@UnclePilot
Uncle Pilot

If #TheWalkingDead teaches us anything, it's that we could all use an All-Purpose Utility Redneck.
@hodgman
hodgman

But NPR coverage of zombies is still so slanted. Why is it so important that they produce a list of demands? IT'S A LEADERLESS MOVEMENT.

The Chutzpah Of Bank of America

(1)  So let me get this straight.  After being bailed out by the federal governmentwith our tax dollars – following their gross incompetence, Bank of America wants to start charging fees for use of debit cards?  That is, they want to make customers pay for accessing their own money? By the way, Bank of America gets to use customers' money to make incompetent investment decisions in the first place (I mean, it's not like your money just sits in a vault).

(2) This is nuts.  From Stephen Foster at Addicting Info:

Two protesters involved with Occupy Santa Cruz in California walked into Bank of America earlier this week to close their own accounts as part of the national protest against the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street, which has only seen its profits soar since it nearly collapsed the economy back in 2008… Rather than allow their customers to close their accounts, they told them that “you can not be a protester and a customer at the same time.” The bank manager threatened to lock the doors and call the police to have their own customers arrested for the simple act of requesting the closure of their own accounts. The two women left the bank and called the police. The officer went into the bank and after talking to the manager, relayed a message to them. According to the bank manager, “If they came in with the signs and they were part of the protest earlier, then they are protesters and cannot be customers at the same time.”

 I don't have a BofA account, but if I did, I just might close my accounts, too.

Walking Dead: Season Premiere 2

The zombie craze has been around for a couple of years; I am admittedly a late-coming fan.  I'm only luke-warm for horror as a genre, but as a sub-genre, zombie movies and writings have struck a chord with me.  I can't explain its mass appeal — there's just something about the idea of "living dead" that makes ones spine tingle.

I enjoyed the first season of Walking Dead, which I stumbled upon by accident.  So I was very much anticipating the season premiere of the second season, which I saw in a movie theater with about 100 other fans (a good way to see it, if you can stomach all the commercials, which are twice as annoying in a crowd viewing).

Walkingdead_zombieherdIt did not disappoint.  It had all the fist-clenching suspense of the first season, such as when the cast had to hide under a highwayful of abandon cars as a "herd" of zombies tredged its way through.  That scene alone is already being acclaimed as a classic zombie scene, one worthy of a zombie film.

But there was also the elements of senseless gore (how does basic cable get away with that?), and, unexpected end-of-episode plot twists that make you want to see the next installment.  

It also had — and I think this is one of the "fun" parts about any zombie entertainment — its fair share of hokey lines and implausible plot developments.  Yes, it's fun to laugh AT "Walking Dead" — not at the planned humor (there isn't much there), but at the ridiculous things the charactors do.  For example, does the mother allow her 12-year old boy to join the men as they go hunting zombies in the woods? Suuuuuure, of course she does.  ("Walking Dead" is, if nothing else, a textbook on bad parenting skills).

There were also some rather unexpected dramatic (perhaps overly so) moments, such as when the lead, Sheriff Rick, has a conversation with a Jesus statue in an abandoned church.  Jesus, it turns out, knows a thing or two about raising the dead, as well as leading a small band of outcasts to a possibly bloody fate.  (Ironically, shortly after Rick asked Jesus for an acknowledgement that he was "doing the right thing" as leader of the group, Rick's son was shot while approaching a deer in the woods.  I guess that answers the question?)

There were rumors that the second season was going to suck because the show's creator, Frank Darabont, would no longer be running the show.  The second season opener was written by Darabont, so it remains to be seen whether or not the whole show gets silly, or stupid, or redundant.  Darabont has "storied out" the next several episodes, but with the show being run by someone else — someone who says "the material will not be an attempt to emulate Darabont’s style" — there is still cause for concern for Walking Dead fans.  

What’s The Matter With Tanya?

I don't watch SNL anymore, and it's too bad, because for the first time in its history, it has a noticeable female slant.  

Sure, there have been female stars on SNL before… from Gilda Radner to Tina Fey.  But what's different now is that a lot of the writing and comic ideas coming out of SNL now is that they are from women, and much of the comedy is directed toward women.  Take this sketch about "the first game show on Lifetime".  

 

The Movement That Can’t Be Ignored

Ap_occupy_wall_street_8_dm_111014_ssh

I have to admit — when I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I thought it was a two or three day story.

But just the opposite has happened — the story grew and the protests grew.

Although some in the media (Fox, I'm looking at you) still feign ignorance about what the movement is about, everyone else has moved on past that by now.  The message, quite simply, is about the grotesque economic inequities that have slowly crept in over the past twenty to thirty years.  Starting in the 1980's, we have seen huge deregulation of the financial sector, and while Wall Street apologists are quick to point out the huge economic gains this country has made in that time, they are tone deaf to the actual complaints: the beneficiaries of those gains are at the top echelon of the economic scale.  The middle and lower classes not only failed to benefit from the country's financial growth; they are actually worse off.

And so Occupy Wall Street has expanded such that it now plays a role in even smaller metropolises.  Both the daily newspapers in Greensboro and Winston-Salem could not avoid covering, and had front page stories about, the Occupy Greensboro and Occupy Winston-Salem movements respectively.

I happened to come across the Occupy Greensboro encampment yesterday, located next to the Greensboro Cultural Center, and was a bit disappointed at the way it looked.  There were about 15 tents and 40 people there, mostly college age and tattooed and body-pierced, with the exception of a couple of tie-dyed wearing-hippies from the 60's.  They were sitting in groups of six or seven, having conversations about the movement and what to do next.  And there was — oh, God — a drum circle.  How much more of a cliche could this setting be?

Later that day, I spoke to an Occupy Greensboro organizer and friend, Devon Currie.  She sheepishly admitted to me that OG actually paid for a permit to occupy the space.  She was against it; it didn't seem in keeping with the whole "occupy" thing.  But she also understood the reasoning — Occupy Greensboro hoped to be broad-based and attract more segments of the community, and it wouldn't serve that goal if everyone was swept up and arrested for trespassing on Day One.  (Besides, she added, who knows what we will do when the permit runs out?)  Fair enough, I thought.

And she pointed out to me that even though Occupy Greensboro appears to look like a typical protest of hippies and hippie-wannabes, the support the group is getting actually is broad-based.  They have received donations (money, food, etc.) from all segments of society (small business owners, etc.).  And in telling me this, she reminded me of something that I clearly and temporarily overlooked — the "Occupy" movement is so much more than those who actually place their bodies at the protests sites.

So it is important not to allow ones perception of the protesters themselves cloud ones perception of the greater cause.  Surveys show that 65% of all Americans stand behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that number probably goes up when you take into account the global response (Occupy Rome, etc).  It's just that most of us — myself included — simply can't be a part of the actual occupations.  So let the hippies and hippie wannabes have their conversation "raps" and drum circles — they have (apparently) the time and inclination (and to be fair, college age students are the hardest hit by this economic crisis).  

(That said — there ARE interesting ways, besides donating, that you can voice your protest)

But the movement and its supporters are much, much broader.  As this weekend's must-read New York Times editorial states (in supporting the protests):

The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters’ own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.

Sure, there are nay-sayers.  Some Tea Party spokespersons, for example. like to draw a distinction between their protests ("Oh, we would never break any laws") and the OWS protests.  Of course, as Jon Stewart pointed out, the Tea Party movement is named after one of the most historically praised criminal ventures, where patriots actually committed felonies by breaking into merchant vessels and tossing the contents overboard.  By contrast, the trespassing misdemeanors of the OWS protesters is comparatively tame.

The movement is already a success.  It has occupied the headlines of every major news outlet AND local news outlet.  It's put the issue of economic disparity at the forefront.

And it has got the attention of the lords of finance, some of whom privately "dismiss the protesters as gullible and unsophisticated".  Unfortunately, the large Wall Street bankers can't say this publicly, for fear of further lending support to the OWS movement.  

TMW2011-10-19colorKOS

True, some smaller financial institutions recognize that there truly is a problem, i.e., that Wall Street has severely screwed over Main Street, and that something needs to be done.

But even if we have a lot of people saying "Okay.  We get the problem", what comes next? However, 

It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge.

And as long as they keep that pressure on, which they will be able to do with the support of the broader community, we just might get our nation's leaders to finally address and tackle this problem.  Along this line, I leave the last word to Paul Krugman:

And there are real political opportunities here. Not, of course, for today’s Republicans, who instinctively side with those Theodore Roosevelt-dubbed “malefactors of great wealth.” Mitt Romney, for example — who, by the way, probably pays less of his income in taxes than many middle-class Americans — was quick to condemn the protests as “class warfare.”

But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.

And today, sadly, we see a rather meager start.

Disaster Reports We Like To Read

EDIS Number: PW-20111013-32671-USA
Date / time: 13/10/2011 16:10:18 [UTC]Event: Power Outage
Area: North-America
Country: USA
State/County: State of Connecticut
Location: Greenwich 
Number of Deads: N/A
Number of Injured: N/A
Number of Infected: N/A
Number of Missing: N/A
Number of Affected: 14507 person(s)
Number of Evacuated: N/A
Damage level: Heavy

Description:

A squirrel is to blame for the power outage that left half of Greenwich customers in the dark this morning. CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said there was a problem at the substation in the Cos Cob area of town. A squirrel got into the substation and caused an explosion around 8:15 this morning. The explosion created flames that soared 150 feet into the air. CL&P reported that 14,507 customers lost power as a result of the incident, including a police station, whose generators did not work. Officers were in the dark, but now have the power back on. They never lost their emergency phone lines. Additionally, traffic lights were reported out, causing traffic problems, and people were stuck in elevators. CL&P has 27,910 customers in Greenwich. Gross said that the power is returning to the area, and it should be returned to all customers in a few hours. The squirrel did not survive the explosion. 

Occupy Wall Street versus The Tea Party

Favorable Opinion of Tea Party: 27%

Favorable Opinion of Occupy Wall Street:  54%

National Poll by Time magazine

And when you factor in disfavorability, the Occupy Wall Street folks have a huge net positive, compared to the tea party.

OWS-v.-Tea-Party-poll_web_graphic

Oddly, there are reports that Tea Party organizations are trying to distance themselves from the Occupy Wall Street movement:

“The left is trying to create a counter force to the tea party, but it’s almost laughable that anyone is comparing the two, because they’re totally different,” said Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express.

But the two movements are not opposite:

“We’re both populist movements, but this is not an answer to the tea party,” asserted Kevin Zeese, an organizer of an anti-war group that has affiliated itself with the Occupy D.C. protests. “This has nothing to do with the tea party. We welcome them to come participate if they share our anger about economic insecurity.”

Meanwhile, Reuters has a new story that breathlessly concludes that George Soros is behind the entire #OccupyWallStreet venture because – wait for it – some kid saw a poster in a cafe criticizing Wall Street, the poster was made by a small group of arch-liberals in Canada, the arch-liberals in Canada receive a small amount of their funding (less than 5%) from the Tides foundation, and the Tides foundation receives some of their funding from George Soros.

Seriously, read the Reuters article.  The "connection" between Soros and OWS is that tenuous.

Five Facts About The Wealthiest 1%

From Livescience.com:

FACT #1: The wealthiest 1 percent of households own 34.6 percent of all privately held wealth, and 42.7 percent of all financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home).

Meanwhile, according to the NYU economist Edward Wolff a 2010 report, the bottom 80 percent of the population holds just 15 percent of the total wealth and only 7 percent of the total financial wealth (as a large portion of their wealth is tied up in their homes). The bottom 40 percent of Americans — that's 120 million people — hold just 0.3 percent of the wealth.

The wealth inequality is not solely because of the inheritance of "old money" among the wealthiest Americans; there is also an extreme and growing inequality in the distribution of incomes. While the top 1 percent of earners earned 12.8 percent of the total national income in 1982, their share rose to 21.3 percent in 2006, a level not seen since the Depression era. Today, an American in the top 1 percent takes in an average of $1.3 million per year, while the average American earns just $33,000 per year. [Wealth distribution pie chart]

FACT #2: The United States has more income and wealth inequality than most countries that have been studied, including India and China — countries that are traditionally viewed as having unequal distributions of wealth.

The degree of income inequality in each country is assigned a "Gini coefficient" — a number that ranges from zero (if everyone in the country has the same income) to 1 (if one person in the country has all the income). According to data gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency for 2010, the United States has a Gini coefficient of 0.45, on par with such countries as Iran (0.44) and Mexico (0.48); this is higher than the Gini coefficients of 94 of the 134 countries that have been studied, including China (0.42) and India (0.37), and much higher than Canada, Australia and all of Europe. Sweden has the lowest Gini coefficient at 0.23. 

The United States' Gini coefficient has been rising for decades; it was just 0.35 in the 1960s. [World map of Gini coefficients]

FACT #3: Among the 299 companies listed in the S&P 500 Index, the average CEO's compensation was $11.4 million in 2010, or 343 times more than the median pay ($33,190) of American workers. The ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay was just 42:1 in 1980, and is currently 25:1 in Europe.

According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which tracks executive salaries on a website called Executive Paywatch, those 299 CEOs have a combined income of $3.4 billion per year, which could pay for 102,325 average American jobs.

Bill Domhoff, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz, claims the ballooning of chief executives' salaries in recent years has resulted from the fact that, for the most part, they set their own wages. "If you wonder how such a large gap could develop, the proximate, or most immediate, factor involves the way in which CEOs now are able to rig things so that the board of directors, which they help select — and which includes some fellow CEOs on whose boards they sit — gives them the pay they want," Domhoff wrote in a 2011 articleon his website. [Graph of worker vs. CEO salaries]

FACT #4: Between 1979 and 2005, the average after-tax income for the top 1 percent increased by 176 percent, compared with an increase of only 6 percent for the bottom 20 percent. Between 1990 and 2005, the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage actually declined by 9.3 percent when adjusted for inflation.

This rapid widening in the income gap between the rich and poor was identified in a 2007 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report attributed the trend to tax policies that favor the wealthy. According to Domhoff, other contributing factors include the diminishing political clout of labor unions and decreased expenditure on social services. [Graph of widening income gap]

FACT #5: Most Americans have no idea that the wealth distribution is as concentrated as it is, but regardless of their gender, age, income level or party affiliation, they believe wealth should be much more evenly distributed than they think it is.

In 2010, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and behavioral economist Dan Ariely of Duke University surveyed 5,522 Americans about their views on the country's wealth distribution. They found that most respondents (regardless of their genders, ages, income levels and party affiliations) guessed that the top 20 percent of Americans hold about 60 percent of the wealth (rather than the 85 percent that they actually hold). Survey respondents also guessed that the bottom 40 percent hold between 8 and 10 percent of the wealth in the U.S. (rather than the 0.3 percent that they actually hold).

Perhaps even more striking than their misconceptions were their beliefs about the ideal wealth distribution. Survey respondents said that the ideal distribution would be one in which the top 20 percent owned between 30 and 40 percent of the total wealth, and that the bottom 40 percent should hold between 25 percent and 30 percent of the wealth — about 1,000 times more than the bottom 40 percent actually do hold. [Graph of actual, estimated and idea wealth distributions]

Numbers don't lie.

Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment In North Carolina: Looks Bad For Marriage Equality

The first poll on North Carolina's efforts to put a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is out, and it looks bad for equality fans.  According to the poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, if the vote were held today, the amendment would pass with 61 percent of the vote and only 34 percent opposing. Even Democrats support the measure (49/44), though at a narrower margin than independents (52/43) and Republicans (80/17). But as PPP points out, the voters likely do not realize the full effect of the amendment:

The interesting thing is that 51% of this same set of voters supports legal recognition for gay couples. 22% favor gay marriage and another 29% civil unions, with only 46% completely opposed to granting same sex couples legal recognition.  The problem for those trying to defeat the amendment is that 37% of voters who support gay marriage or civil unions are still planning to vote for it.  That suggests a lot of folks aren’t familiar with how wide reaching the proposed amendment would be and it gives those fighting it a chance- they just have to get their message out effectively to the majority of North Carolinians who do support legal recognition for gay couples that the proposal goes too far.

The key is language. This 61/34 result comes from asking about “defining marriage as between a man and a woman.” When PPP polled about prohibiting all forms of union last months, the numbers flip and 55 percent oppose the amendment. The huge difference between these simple language changes suggests how contentious the campaign will be until the vote in May.

Equality North Carolina offers a guide to the amendment with eight “truths” about the harm it will cause the state. The full breakdown of this poll can be found here.

Three Ways That Wall Street Occupies Washington, DC

From Think Progress:

1. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Massive Campaign Contributions: On Nov. 12, 1999 President Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between commercial and investment banking. Repealing this law was one of the top legislative goals of the financial industry. In the 1998 election cycle, commercial banks spent $18 million on congressional campaign contributions, with 65 percent going to Republicans and 35 percent going to Democrats. Securities and investment firms donated over $40 million. The mega-bank Citibank spent $1,954,191 during that cycle, and it was soon able to merge with Travelers Group as a result of the repeal of banking regulations. Between 2008 and 2010, when new financial regulations were being written following the financial crisis, the finance, insurance, and real estate industries spent $317 million in federal campaign contributions, with $73 million of that coming from Political Action Committees (PACs). The hold of campaign contributions is starkly bipartisan. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) explained to Real Clear Politics in an interview last year, he couldn’t get a vote on a windfall profits tax on bonuses at bailed out banks due to campaign contributors. “I couldn’t even get a vote,” Webb explained. “And it wasn’t because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren’t going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising.”

2. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Its Lobbyists: One way to control what Washington lawmakers do is to give them access to exclusive funding streams that allow them to finance their campaigns. But yet another is to control the stream of information. From the deregulatory period of 1998 to 2009, the financial sector spent $3.3 billion on lobbyists. In 2007, the financial industry employed 2,996 separate lobbyists, five for every member of Congress. During the debate over financial reform last year, the industry flooded the nation’s capital with its own lobbyists. On just one issue — regulating derivatives — financial industry lobbyists outnumbered consumer group lobbyists and other pro-reform advocates by 11 to 1. In fact, by 2010, the industry had hired a whopping 1,600 former federal employees as lobbyists. Included among these lobbyists were high-ranking former public leaders like former Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephdart (MO) and Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Much of this lobbying is done through elite K Street firms that specialize in hiring government insiders. Yet there are also bank-funded front groups like the Chamber of Commerce that deploy lobbyists on behalf of the big banks.

3. Wall Street Literally Occupies Washington By Placing Its Staff In Government Positions: Shortly after Clinton signed into law the repeal of the firewall between commercial and investment banking, his Treasury Secretary andGoldman Sachs alumni Robert Rubin left the government to work for newly-formed Citigroup — whose merger was only possible thanks to the policies Rubin championed and enacted. His compensation at Citigroup topped $15 million, not including stock options. Goldman’s alumni are found across the government, including bailout architect and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Paulson’s bailout chief Neil Kashkari, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Gary Gensler. The revolving door, of course, works both ways. Obama budget director Peter Orszag joined Citigroup shortly after leaving the government. This is just a small sampling of Wall Street’s staffers who found their way into government.

Simple Minds Offer Simple Analysis

Once again, the crack bloggers at Patterico's Ponitification are showing their stupidity.

It's Aaron "Not My Real Name" Worthing, touting this chart which is making the rounds on conservative blogs:

and then writing this:

So once again, we are shown that things are worse than they predicted if we did nothing.  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating–over and over until we have new people in charge.  Logically there are only two explanations for why things are the way they are:

  1. Either the Obama administration stinks at making predictions; or
  2. They’re making it worse.

That’s it.  There is no third option.  And either way, it leads us to the same conclusion: they need to stop what they are doing.  The reason why option #2 leads to that was obvious, but the reason why option #1 leads there is less so.  The reason why their inability to predict accurately proves they need to stop is simply that if they can’t predict the future, then they can’t possibly know what the effects of their policies would be.

Poor Aaron.  The small print and details befuddle him.

Let's look at the source for the lines in the graph, shall we?  The "with stimulus" line is based on "The Job Impact of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Plan", a position paper put out by Jared Bernstein, Office of the Vice President-elect. The paper was released on January 9, 2009.  Before Obama took office.

Was this the stimulus plan presented to Congress by Obama?  No.

Did Congress pass Obama's plan as stated?  No.  They passed something else, as a result of congressional wrangling and compromise.

Let me repeat that: Obama's stimulus plan represented in the graph above was not passed by Congress, so we can't SAY how well or poorly it "actually did". 

Logically there are only two explanations for why Aaron neglected to point this out:

  1. He's a lying hack
  2. He's a lazy non-thinking blogger.

That’s it.  There is no third option.

Anyway, armed with the faulty premise, Aaron comes to the conclusion that the best thing for the government to do in this recession… is to do nothing. 

Part of the problem is that economic predictions is not an exact science.  There is probably a 2-3% margin of error with any economic forecast prediction, which makes the above graph virtually meaningless.

And despite Worthing's attempt to narrow the choices to either (a) Obama stinks at making predictions or (b) "Obama's" stimulus made things worse, there is a strong argument for (c) that the reason the stimulus didn't do better was because it was watered down by Congress, with not enough spending, and too many tax cuts.  

Even then, there's no question that the stimulus actually DID create and save jobs; the problem (I submit) is that iit didn't stimulate enough to get us out from the recession.  Instead, it helped us avoid a depression.

And that was worthwhile, wasn't it?

And Cain Jumps The Shark, Too

It's not his 9-9-9 policy, although that proposal is dumb, too.

Nope, it's this:

Boortz, at the tail end of the interview, asks Cain how he’d do in a debate against Obama:

“It would almost be no contest.”

Ticking off ways he could compete with Obama, Boortz says that Cain would be able to talk about the black experience in America.

Cain’s response: “[Obama's] never been a part of the black experience in America.

WTF?

Congress Hits All-Time Low

Congress is on track to register its lowest annual average approval rating for any year since Gallup began measuring congressional approval in 1974. The existing lows are 18% recorded in 1992 (based on one measure that year) and 19% recorded in each of three years: 1979 (based on one measure), 2008 (based on monthly ratings), and 2010 (based on monthly ratings).

Right now, Congress is polling at a 13% approval rating.

Congressional Job Approval -- 2011 Trend

Can you take a hint boys?  Stop doing this.

Off to Rehearsal, Nekid Feet