Class Warfare

The GOP Tax Plan Hits Middle Class

Having failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, almost everything is riding, politically speaking, on the new GOP tax bill.  And it looks like a tough road to passage.

Washington Post poll provides a good starting point for measuring public opinion at the outset of the tax debate. Only one-third of Americans support the plan, against half opposing it. Sixty percent of the public believe it favors the rich. To the extent that people learn more, support is likely to fall even lower.

The bill contains three categories of political poison. First, it cuts taxes on rich people and corporations, a wildly unpopular goal. Americans want to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes. Republicans would do the opposite. The bill accomplishes this unpopular change by reducing the corporate income tax rate, raising the threshold at which the top income tax rate applies, from $400,000 to a million dollars, phasing out the estate tax, and creating a 25 percent income tax bracket for “pass-through firms.” The latter provision is rife for both abuse and lawyerly gaming. Any time the tax code makes a lot of money hinge on a technical difference, the opportunities for fraud will multiply. In this case, high-income earners who want to reduce their income tax rate from 39.6 percent or so to 25 percent can create a phony firm in which they are an investor.

Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which defends the plan, recognizes the problem. “Republicans should not want to defend Wall Street lawyers paying a lower rate than wage earners in Omaha,” it warns. But they will be.

The second problem is that the bill raises taxes for a large number of middle-class families. It does so by scaling back personal exemptions and reducing the inflation adjustment. Around a quarter of middle-class families will pay more taxes under this plan. That’s millions of people. (Or, to translate it into attack ad–ese, “MILLIONS of Middle-Class American families will get a TAX HIKE so CORPORATIONS CAN PAY LESS!”)

House Republicans tout a married couple with two children earning $59,000 as the prototypical beneficiaries of their plan. It is true, such a couple would pay lower tax in the first few years. But as time goes on, their tax cut will turn into a tax increase:

Many of those couples, or perhaps actors portraying them, will be seen on television between now and November 2018 making sad faces around their kitchen tables.

Finally, the House Republican plan eliminates specific tax breaks that are both worthy and popular. There are two fiscal requirements for a tax plan to pass the Senate. It can increase the deficit by no more than $1.5 trillion over the first decade, and it cannot increase the deficit at all after ten years. The House plan utterly fails the second test, which makes it unpassable in anything like its current form, and raises the question of why they’re bothering to take all the political risk.

But it does meet the first requirement. And in order to keep its net cost down to $1.5 trillion, when the tax cuts it gives out cost much more, Republicans went scrounging through the cushions of the tax code for loose change. And the nickels and dimes they’re saving to pay for the corporate and estate tax cuts include things like eliminating the tax credit that offsets the (frequently exorbitant) cost of adoption. Or the tax credit for small business to create access for disabled employees. Or the tax credit for clinical tests for treatment for rare diseases — which, the New York Times explains, is “central to the business model for such firms and eliminating it could mean that big pharmaceutical companies will have little reason to invest in drugs that help small patient populations.” Or repealing the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which creates an incentive for hiring veterans.

The plan reads as if it was reverse-engineered from 30-second political attack ads. And while it seems very unlikely that Republicans actually designed their proposal by asking Democratic ad-makers for a list of the most sympathetic people in America — veterans, orphans, the disabled, people suffering rare diseases — the effect will be the same.

Republicans could have written a tax-cut plan that hurt nobody. Or they could have written a sweeping tax reform that could stand for years. Incredibly, they have done neither. They have taken on all the political downside of tax reform — but because their plan can’t pass the Senate, they will get none of the upside.

Trump’s Tax Plan Is A Gift For The Wealthy

Overhauling the tax code is a task Republicans in Congress have been attempting to accomplish for 30 years. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump unveiled his administration’s tax plan, called the “Unified Framework For Fixing Our Broken Tax Code.” The plan is reported to cost an upwards of $5 trillion dollars and has been described by his officials as “completely designed with the middle class in mind.”

Trump has promised he would “cut taxes tremendously for the middle class” while also promising as recently as September 14 that the wealthiest Americans “will not be gaining at all with this plan,” but the framework provided by his administration proves otherwise.

Here are more details about the plan, per senior administration officials.

Individual tax reform: 

  • Creates three tax brackets — 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — and gives the option for congressional committees to add a fourth rate on the highest earners. Doesn’t define the income ranges to which these rates apply.
  • Currently, there are seven individual rate brackets ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent.
  • Almost doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for a single person and $24,000 for a married couple.
  • Increases the child tax credit to something “substantially higher” than the current $1,000 per child. Increases the income level at which the credit phases out.
  • Creates a $500 tax credit for non-child dependents.
  • Repeals the alternative minimum tax.
  • Repeals the personal exemption.
  • Eliminates most itemized deductions, but keeps those for mortgage interest and charitable contributions.
  • Repeals the estate tax.
  • Eliminates state and local tax deduction.
Corporate tax reform:
  • Maximum small business rate of 25 percent. Right now, it’s generally taxed at the individual level.
  • 20 percent corporate rate. Currently, it’s 35 percent.
  • Repeals the corporate alternative minimum tax.
  • Allows businesses to immediately write off the cost of new investments over five years.
  • Partially limits interest deductibility.
  • Keeps the research and development tax credit, along with the low income housing credit.
International tax reform: 
  • Moves to a “territorial system,” which doesn’t tax business profits made outside the country.
  • As a transition, there will be a one-time tax on profits accumulated overseas. Higher rate for cash profits than liquid assets, but doesn’t say what the rates are.

Here’s what the tax plan actually does.

Repealing the individual alternative minimum tax

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) will be eliminated under Trump’s tax plan. The AMT, which was created to ensure that wealthy taxpayers pay their fair share and don’t take advantage of all the deductions in the current tax code, is the only reason Trump paid significant taxes in his leaked tax return from 2005. In 2005, he paid a total tax rate of about 24% on $150 million of income; without the AMT, he would have paid less than 4%.

Since it was enacted, the AMT has gone under several iterations and now affects roughly over 4 million taxpayers, mainly those who earn $250,000 in adjusted gross income. Tax policy experts have concerns that repealing it would result in a federal budget shortfall.

Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have also proposed to eliminate the AMT, but replacing it with a flat tax on the wealthy of around 28 percent.

Repealing the tax deduction for state and local taxes

This is the tax measure that will cause the biggest trouble for state lawmakers. The Trump tax plan includes repealing itemized deductions for state and local taxes as a way to help pay for the massive tax cuts provided to individuals and corporations.

This is good news for Republicans, as the state and local tax deduction (SALT) is most valuable in blue states like New York and New Jersey, but bad news for tax payers in those states. Rep. Steve King (R-NY) a Trump loyalist, has said he can’t vote for any bill that repeals the SALT. In New Jersey, losing the break would cost taxpayers an upwards of $3,500, and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) told Bloomberg he has the “gravest reservations” on voting for a bill that includes a repeal of the SALT.

There are 52 Republicans from districts in blue states that use the state tax deduction disproportionately, just enough to stop any legislation in the House that repeals the state and local tax deduction.

Eliminating the estate tax

Trump’s tax plan includes a tax reform measure many Republicans have wanted to repeal for a long time: the estate tax. It’s a 40 percent levy on assets that exceed the $5.49 million exemption per person and $10.98 million for a married couple. This measure is only really utilized by the country’s wealthiest tax payers, affecting less than half of a percent of all estates today, according to IRS figures. This is another tax break to the wealthiest Americans.

Slashing corporate tax rates

Some good news for Trump’s friends in the business world: the corporate tax rate will be lowered nearly 15 points, from 35 percent to 20 percent. When Trump was on the campaign trail, however, he repeatedly promised a 15 percent tax rate, which many experts saw as nearly impossible.

The plan also includes a special income tax rate for “pass-through” businesses, which include partnerships and LLCs. These businesses don’t pay the corporate rate, rather their owners pay taxes on their share of the profits from the business at their own personal rate, which now will be lowered to 35 percent under the Trump plan.  There’s a provision in the Trump plan that would cap the rate on income from pass-through businesses at 25 percent.

The Trump Organization, which still has ownership of, owns more than 500 pass through business entities. This loophole would slash the tax rate on the profits from these businesses by more than a third.

Raising the bottom tax rate and cutting the top rate (while doubling standard deductions)

Republicans have agreed on raising the bottom tax rate two percentage points to 12 percent in order to offset a huge tax cut for the top individual tax rate, down nearly five points to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. However many tax experts say this doesn’t come anywhere near close enough to paying for those massive tax cuts for wealthier individuals.

By raising the bottom rate to 12 percent, the plan consolidates the seven current tax brackets into just three, set at 12 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent, with the option of including a fourth tax bracket should the tax writing committees in Congress deem it necessary to include one, but the plan doesn’t detail at what  income levels these individual brackets will be set at, also leaving that up to congressional committees.

Trump’s tax plan also proposes doubling the standard deduction, which is generally good for lower to middle income families, but when paired with other tax measures, like the elimination of the personal exemption, can end up actually raising taxes on middle-income families.

Eliminating personal exemptions

The personal exemption, currently at $4,050, will be eliminated under the White House’s tax plan. Bloomberg estimates that a middle-class couple with three kids would actually have to add $20,250 to their taxable income to make up for this. That amounts to nearly double the “benefit” they would receive by a doubled standard deduction. It’s again hard to determine the exact impact on a particular family because the plan lacks critical details.

The White House plan also proposes an increased child tax credit of over $1,000 dollars while also creating a $500 dollar tax credit for tax payers with non-child dependents, which they hope will offset the elimination of the personal exemption. However, because the White House didn’t provide at what income level the three individual tax brackets will be set at, middle-income families will just have to take the administration’s word for it and depend on the work of the tax writing committees.

Breaking: The Senate Health Care Bill Gets Scored

The House Bill said 23 million would lose insurance under the House GOP plan to replace Obamacare.

Now the Senate version has been scored and it is…. just as bad.

The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law, the budget office said.

Silver lining?

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

Good news unless you are uninsured and get sick.  The deficits mostly come from GOP bill cuts, i.e., the spending cut on Medicaid by 26% by 2026

To be honest, I really thought it would be somewhere around 15 million after 10 years.  Nope, it’s 22 million.  A disaster for the GOP.  And most of that — well, 15 million — would happen right away.  That would have a huge impact on the 2018 elections if this gets passed.

Tales Of The One Percenters

Honestly.  What is it going to take for the people and/or the government to throw these rich bastards in jail?  No, not for being rich, but for, you know, breaking laws and regulations that effect the lives of actual people…. when?!?

Case Study Number One:

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned Wednesday as a growing scandal over falsified emissions tests rocked the world’s biggest carmaker.

“I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part,” Winterkorn said after an emergency meeting with Volkswagen directors.

Winterkorn, 68, was Volkswagen (VLKAY) CEO for eight years. The German company, which also owns the Audi and Porsche brands, had just achieved his long-standing goal of overtaking Toyota (TM) to become the biggest automaker three years ahead of target.

But his position had looked increasingly precarious since the scandal broke Friday, when U.S. regulators said the company had deliberately programmed some 500,000 diesel-powered vehicles to emit lower levels of harmful gases in official tests than on the roads.

The crisis escalated Tuesday when Volkswagen revealed it had found significant emissions discrepancies in 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide.

Winterkorn, an engineer and former head of Audi, said he was stunned by the scale of the misconduct, and was accepting responsibility to clear the way for a “fresh start” for the company.

Stunned, my ass.  You don’t intentionally program an entire line of cars to “cheat” emissions tests without the CEO knowing about it.  So this guy straps on a golden parachute, and leaves Volkswagon.  But people die when these things are avoided:

Volkswagen has admitted that 11 million of its cars worldwide were designed to cheat emissions testing, in an escalating scandal that has loaded pressure on the wider motor industry.

Campaigners have long claimed engine emissions figures under laboratory tests are far exceeded in real-life conditions, and experts have said thousands of premature deaths could be averted by ensuring cars meet their legal limits.

Emphasis mine.

Case Study Number Two:

Hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli is 32 years old but he’s acting half that age on Twitter today after news broke that his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, had raised the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

That’s not a typo — $13.50 to $750.00 per pill.

Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a condition caused by a parasite that exists in nearly a quarter of the U.S. population over age 12, but which can prove deadly for the unborn children of pregnant women and for immunocompromised individuals like AIDS patients. These vulnerable populations will now have to pay over 5,000 percent more for their treatment.

Due to the sudden price hike, Shkreli, whose company only acquired Daraprim last month, has already dethroned the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion as the most-hated man in America.

***

Shkreli did a news show circuit as well, beginning with Bloomberg, where he attempted to argue that Daraprim had been underpriced before Turing swept in.

“The price per course of treatment to save your life was only $1,000 and we know these days, [with] modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more, rare-disease drugs can cost half a million dollars,” Shkreli said, as if it should be shocking that cheap, life-saving medicine could cost less than a laptop.

When confronted by the reporter with the low cost of producing Daraprim—about $1 per pill by her estimate—Shkreli claimed that the price hike was necessary for Turing Pharmaceuticals to increase revenue, and that some of the profits would be funneled into research and development costs for a Daraprim alternative. But as Emory University infectious disease professor Dr. Wendy Armstrong told RawStory, “I certainly don’t think this is one of those diseases where we have been clamoring for better therapies.”

Why do one percenters get away with this?  Because they can:

But as reprehensible as Shkreli’s actions might appear, what is even more harrowing is that they are not illegal. With his social media swagger, Shkreli makes an easy target for a problem that extends far beyond the confines of his ego: the rampant overpricing of life-saving medicine. As USA Today reported, many new cancer drugs cost over $100,000 per year—a fact that Shkreli, ironically, sees as justification for raising the cost of Daraprim. And technically, there’s no way to stop him.

As a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration told The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins on Twitter in response to Shkreli’s actions, their power in this situation is, well, nonexistent.

An FAQ page on the FDA’s website asks, “What can the FDA do about the cost of drugs?” and the answer is, essentially, nothing: “We understand that drug prices have a direct impact on the ability of people to cope with their illnesses as well as meet other expenses. However, FDA has no legal authority to investigate or control the prices charged for marketed drugs.”

Martin_Shkreli__3449094bThis is true, but states have laws against gouging.  An industrious state Attorney General could make a name for himself on this.

In any event, Shkreli’s media blitz cast him in an even worse light — he came off as slimy and greasy as a used car salesman.  Just .look at his picture.  The latest news today is that Shkreli has agreed to reduce the price, although he will not say by how much.

He’s not the first person to corner the market on a drug and hike the price.  But he’s one of the most frequent offenders.  Fortunately, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have weighed in, and this could become a political hot potato.  Any chance for reform?  We’ll see.

 

Pissing On Your Best Friend

Earlier this week, I got in — not one but two — debates with good progressive friends about the wisdom of the BLM movement shutting down Bernie Sanders speaking at a Social Security and Medicaid event last Saturday in Seattle.  It’s a lot of ground to cover, but I read something by Hamilton Nolan (whoever he is) at Gawker that gets me 66% of the way there.  So I am going to piggyback on his essay to explain my take:

On Saturday, Bernie Sanders was scheduled to speak to a crowd of thousands of supporters in a Seattle park. He never did; the event was shut down after a handful of protesters disrupted it in the name of “Black Lives Matter.” This was remarkably dumb.

Some caveats up front: 1) “Black Lives Matter,” like “Occupy,” is not a formal group with strict membership requirements. It is a banner, an overarching cause, a general proclamation of a set of political beliefs that can be picked up by anyone who cares to invoke its name. The actions of a few people should not, therefore, be used to try to tarnish that entire cause.

Yup.  And part of the problem in the debates about “what BLM did” is that there is no centralized BLM leadership.  When you think “BLM”, think “Tea Party”, but with a different set of goals.  When I use “BLM” in this post, I am referring to those who say and believe that what happened in Seattle speaks for all BLM movement supporters, even though I do not concede that to be true.  *I* am a BLM movement supporter, one of many who disagree with the tactics in Seatlle.

2) There are already plenty of conspiracy theories circulating in lefty circles about the group of protesters who disrupted the event, and their true motivations, and what they hoped to accomplish. I do not want to dive into a sea of unprovable suppositions, or overgeneralize about a broad cause. There have already been many tortured op-eds by progressives trying to painstakingly reconcile what happened. The fact is that this is not the first time that Bernie Sanders has been driven from the stage by Black Lives Matter protesters.

Agreed.  The background of the protesters at the event is interesting.  One of them was definitely once a Sarah Palin supporter, but what that means NOW, if anything, can only be guessed at.  For the purposes of what I am saying, I will consider the background of the protesters to be irrelevant.

I simply want to talk about the wisdom of doing this.

It is stupid, don’t do it.

Is “Black Lives Matter,” drawing attention as it does to institutional racism, racist police practices, and other pervasive instances of racism in American society, a legitimate cause? Of course it is. It is perfectly appropriate for BLM to wave its banner in rallies, in protest marches, and in city halls. It is appropriate to wave its banner in neighborhoods, in meeting halls, in the media, and in the streets. It is even, I would argue, appropriate for protesters to stand up and raise their voices and be disruptive at campaign rallies for political candidates who are acting to reinforce and support the sort of racism that they are campaigning against.

One of the criticisms that gets pushed against people like me who were critical of BLM is that we’re trying to get black protesters to “be nice” and “not make waves” and not “shake up the status quo”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Direct action is not only a valid tactic, but in many instances, a necessary tactic.  My gripe is not against direct action — it is against misdirected action

Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, who spits venom about “illegals” pouring into America to rape innocent women, could use a good Black Lives Matter protest. Almost every Republican presidential candidate, in fact—who stumble over themselves competing to build a bigger wall on the border and who unerringly back the police state in word and deed—could use a good Black Lives matter protest. As could most Republican senators, and state governors, and a host of mayors and city council members and sheriffs.

But Bernie Sanders?

Let me stop again here and blunt what some might be thinking.  I am not a Bernie Sanders supporter.  I like much if not most of what he says.  But I don’t think an 80 year old socialist can be an effective leader in this ultra-divided political climate.  He would be a great king, but this is a democracy where compromise is actually necessary.  I also doubt his bona fides on foreign policy.  And a number of other reasons.  So don’t tag me with “You’re in Bernie’s camp” assumption.  You would be wrong.

Nor do I think Sander’s campaign is above reproach.  He has many critics on the left for a number of reasons.  The unbelievably awesome Larry Lessig, for example, is critical of Sanders, saying that Sanders has not put campaign finance reform at the top of his agenda.  Like Lessig,  I believe that you can’t solve the major problems of this country (including racial problems) without changing the way we elect people.  And I’m excited about a possible Lessig campaign.  But you don’t see Lessig, or other Sanders critics, storming the stage and shouting at Sanders like it is a Jerry Springer show.

Bernie Sanders? Bernie Sanders, of all presidential candidates, is the one that you choose to target on the issue of America’s structural racism? Bernie Sanders is the most progressive serious presidential candidate, and the most liberal, and the most vocal and wise on the issue of America’s entrenched and widening economic inequality. And should the Black Lives Matter movement care about economic inequality? Of course. The average white household in America has 16 times the wealth of the average black household. No group in America suffers from our nation’s economic inequality more than black people. Further, closing the racial wealth gap is probably the single most effective thing that any politician could do to help advance the cause of ending structural racism in America. This is because promoting progressive economic policies that work against the extreme concentration of wealth in small groups of people is something that politicians can actually do that has actual real world effects on racial inequality. “Giving nice speeches” is an example of a thing that politicians can do that tends to have little if any real world effect on racial inequality. I guarantee you that there are Democratic (and even some Republican) presidential candidates who are far more polished and smooth politicians than Bernie Sanders who are capable of giving speeches on race in America that sound far more pleasing and life-affirming to listen to than anything that Bernie Sanders says in his own plainspoken growl. And those candidates, who are heavily influenced by Wall Street donors, will go on to do very little to close the racial wealth gap in America, unlike Bernie Sanders.

So the question is: do you want someone who will do the things that will actually address the issues you care about? Or do you want to be pandered to better?

Many on the left find it hard to come out and say “this was stupid,” because they support both Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement. That is a misperception of the political landscape. Believing that a small group of angry young protesters did something that was not well thought out need not make you feel guilty or racist; rash and counterproductive things are what young people do. Screaming Bernie Sanders offstage is dumb because you support Black Lives Matter. For those perceptive enough to separate pretty slogans from actual policy prescriptions, it is clear that Bernie Sanders is the candidate most aligned with the group’s values. Stifling his voice only helps his opponents.

Go shout at someone who deserves it.

Here’s where I have a little pushback of my own for the Gawker opinion piece.  While it is true that Sanders is, of all the candidate, the one most likely to be the best friend of the BLM movement, it is clear that the BLM movement doesn’t see it that way.  The Gawker pieces doesn’t seem to understand this point.  So I’ll address it.

The Seattle protesters (and perhaps the ones at Netroots) claim not to be interested in partisan politics.  In fact, the Seattle protesters claim that that “white supremacist liberals” are actually the cause of the problem.

If that is indeed the position of ALL of BLM (and again, it isn’t, because BLM is just an umbrella name to describe a movement, rather than an actual organization), then BLM is in serious trouble.  It is not liberals who can be blamed for the black people dying at the hands of law enforcement.  Progressive policies are not the root cause of this (and tellingly, no BLMed can point to one), nor are progressives guilty by reason of complacency.

Especially and including Sanders.  Sanders had incorporated a searing critique of entrenched racism into his regular stump speech.  He addressed the SCLC (MLK’s organization) talking about Sandra Bland and the need for officers to wear police cameras.  When he addressed the national conference of the Urban League on August 7, Sanders rattled off the names of Brand, Brown, Boyd, Garner, Scott, Gray and Rice and presented his own standards. “Violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of law enforcement sworn to protect and serve their communities, is unacceptable and must not be tolerated, he said. “We must reform our criminal justice system. Black lives do matter, and we must value black lives.”

All this was BEFORE last weekend.  His reward was a public scolding by Seattle activists who prevented him from speaking at a Social Security rally, one of whom demanded the crowd “join us now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable for his actions.”  What would those actions be?  It wasn’t explained then or since.  Maybe that’s because the people who supported the Seattle protests were too busy congratulating themselves and taking victory laps, while the rest of us shook our heads in embarrassment and disbelief.

It’s possible that the Seattle protesters didn’t know about Sanders’ statements over the past few weeks, but if so, then the organization that prides itself on using the new social media of the Internet to “spread the word” and organize encountered a massive fail.

Even if they had known, my understanding is that the Seattle protesters didn’t care about Sanders’ civil rights past (going back 50 years) or his recent statements about black lives.  The BLM, I’m told, doesn’t care about partisan politics.

Which is all well and good, but then its focus on candidates of the 2016 election seems counterproductive to even its OWN mission.  In any event, I don’t think they should care about partisan politics either.  If a Republican candidate had the same background and positions as Sanders, he/she should be welcomed into the BLM fold as well.  Being am equal-opportunity troll still means you are a troll (See Trump, Donald)  (UPDATE:  Speaking of Trump, he just held a short press conference. He said Bernie Sanders was “weak” when he allowed #BlackLivesMatter protesters to take the microphone at his rally… and actually threatened to physically fight them if they tried to do the same thing to him.  Attention BLMers: you want to impress me?  Don’t take your fight to Sanders who offers the path of least resistance because he’s on your side.  Take it to Trump)

As an aside, yet ANOTHER defense offered by those who support the Seattle protests — and it is a common theme running through the larger debate — is that “white people” shouldn’t be telling “black people” how to run “their” movement.

This is absurd for a number of reasons.  The first is, many people don’t see it as a movement refined to people of color.  As Kennedy once said:

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

It’s not “my” movement?  Bullshit.  Besides, if the people doing the killing are white, and I am white, and what they do reflects upon me (and apparently it does), then I’m not going to remain silent when I see a movement destined to fail.

Furthermore, I’m not criticizing the movement “as a white man”.  The criticisms I have a color-neutral, and one way you know that is because my exact same criticism of BLM has been said by Oprah Winfrey and Al Sharpton, who became, as a result, pariahs within the BLM movement (more on that in a moment).

To suggest that my criticisms come because of my whiteness denies a central tenant of a belief that BLMers themselves hold — that I am a beneficiary of white privilege (I acknowledge that I am a beneficiary of a racist system, but that does not mean I cause or support it).  I don’t check my color, and I am not conscious of it when I open my mouth to opine.  However, it is helpful to the BLM movement that I am portrayed that way, and they will take advantage of liberal white guilt to advance that theory that all whites are racist.  But it simply isn’t true.  I know when I am being condescending on a racial basis — that it “feels” that way to a black person doesn’t make it so.

So returning the the point, who then can the finger be pointed when it comes to racial injustice?  Go to the conservative blogs whenever a unarmed black person gets shot by white policemen.  If they are talking about it at all, it is in defense of the police.  The opposite is true of the progressive blogs.  Compare the new media versions of the right and the left on the subject of racial homicides.  Hell, compare the old media.

BLM supporters are quick to point out that racism is different now.  It isn’t hoods and Civil War flags.  No it isn’t.  That’s too obvious.  But that doesn’t mean it is mainstream progressive thought either. LISTEN to what is said on the very very white Fox News.  None of them have hoods either.

Can progressives be taken to task for failing to fix the problem?  Sure.  For example, Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative (or rather, the expansion of his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative) seems like weak tea to many, and I tend to agree.  But failure to fix the problem is not the same as being at the root cause of the problem.  BLMers seem to not know the difference.

So what is BLM’s problem with me and Oprah and Sharpton?  Not hard to answer.  We’re the older generation.  And THAT, I insist, is really what this schism is about.  Not progressive left against BLM, but rather, old (experienced) activists and younger ones.  If I sound condescending in my criticisms to a young black BLM activist, my condescension is rooted in my experience, not my skin color.

One defender of BLM said that he had been involved in social activism for 7 years, so he’s not a neophyte.  Seven years is good, but it’s not 37.  And as other BLM activists have blatantly admitted, proudly, they don’t care about the past.  MLK was then, this is now.

Each generation needs to find its own voice, so you certainly can understand where BLM comes from.  If I grew up with black parents who were (probably) liberal and followers of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, and I came of age in world where young black people got shot and nobody seemed to care, I too might reject the world and politics of my parents (not just leftie politics, but the racist political system altogether) and start from scratch.  So I get that.

But black lives matter.  They matter more than white peoples’ feelings (as we often hear), but guess what?  They matter more than black peoples’ feelings, too.  I don’t care that “this ain’t your daddy’s revolution” as many BLM signs and websites like to say.  Fidelity to being “now” — and using social media, and being leaderless, and being angry, and upturning the apple cart, and yada yada yada — that don’t mean shit if doesn’t yield change.

And the problem with BLM is that they waste time reinventing the wheel –thinking that their “new” brand of movement will get things done.  In the meantime, black lives are at stake.  But for some reason, it is more important to close their ears to (or even piss on) natural allies than to be pragmatic about ACTUAL change.

Not that the BLM cares about history, but the phenomenon of self-marginalization isn’t new.  In the 1960s, you had a split between the militant Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.  Both engaged in direct action, so that factor is a wash.  But who was the white power structure more afraid of — (a) Malcolm X and his threat to take democracy into black hands “by any means necessary”, or (b) Martin Luther King with his progressive coalition taking direct action (coupled with his ability to work within the system he was engaging)?

Martin Luther King was the threat.

Why?  Because for all his talk and perceived militancy, Malcolm X had no method, no program, no “means” that would actually bring about long-lasting change.  King, on the other hand, had shown he could move mountains.  And when he crossed Pettus bridge on his way to Selma, it wasn’t just King and the SCLC; it was preachers and volunteers of every religion and race.  (The only person to die in the march to Selma was a white woman).

But BLM doesn’t seem to care about that.  “Coalition politics is sooooo 60 years ago, and we’ve got hashtags now!”  So old farts like Oprah and me, we can sit on the side.  That’s seriously what is going on today.

It’s too bad.  Because social media is great for getting people to look at stuff.  A black girl in Houston gets kneed in the back by a white cop at a pool party in Houston.  Some guy with a cellphone records it.  Bam!!  People all over the world know about it before the day is over.  That’s powerful and an incredible tool to harness.

But one need only look to the Occupy movement to see the shortcomings of relying just on that.  At the end of the day, almost no financial reform came when Occupy took the tents down.  Only one very low level guy has been prosecuted for the intentional financial crimes that resulted in a catastrophic worldwide depression that saw the USA alone lose trillions in net worth, and saw hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their hopes for retirement, or a house, etc.  The best tthat can be said of the Occupy movement is that “income inequality” is a phrase people know, and it is sorta kinda a campaign issue in 2016.

Perhaps that was all the Occupy intended to do, so I won’t say it is a “failure”.  But one thing is certain — by design or by accident, Occupy had no Act Two.

BLM is going the way of Occupy in that they think that simply exposing the problem is the same as fixing it.  Unfortunately, people are aware of the race problem already.  The mainstream media didn’t cover financial shenanigans because it wasn’t sexy and it was hard to understand, but they DO cover race wars.  So the American public is aware of the problem (even conservatives who deny it is a problem are aware of the issue).  At best, you’re either preaching to choir, or just annoying people who will resist you.  At worst, you are annoying your allies.

So BLM needs an Act Two and a way to bring about change.  But they are stuck in Malcolm X mode, engaging in divisive politics that marginalizes themselves, and specifically rejecting coalition movements   That’s unfortunate.

I could probably write another post on what BLM should be doing, but that would take too long.  The thumbnail version is this: act more locally.  Police units operate and the city, county and municipal level.  That’s where the rubber needs to meet the road.  National politics and politicians can only do so much.

So demand “audits” or “report cards” from every police department.  Have specific benchmarks that every law enforcement entity needs to meet.  Some criteria might relate to hiring practices (i.e., does the racial make-up of the police officers reflect that of the population they serve), police distribution (i.e., do minority policemen police minority neighborhoods), data collection (i.e., is information gathered relating to the race of people stopped, frisked, detained, as well as the race of the cop), police training (i.e., prevailing model that is taught — self-protection model vs “protect and serve the public” model), police continuing education, views on use of cameras (not only by police but the public recording the police) and so on.  Require local police departments to issue annual reports on these and other factors.  Form joint legislative-citizen committees to address shortcomings that surface from these reports.  Write and pass local legislation to correct flaws in the system (I, for one, think that government should not be permitted to negotiate with police unions on any issue mentioned above).  And so on.

And if direct action is needed, BLM needs to take direct action at the local level against whatever entity is obstructing it.  But don’t marginalize.  BLM needs to understand, for example, how other groups — say, groups concerned about gun control, or groups concerned about income inequality — have issues that bear directly on the issues that concern BLM.  And bring them in.  Don’t piss them off and shut them out.

That’s what BLM needs to do, at a minimum.

That is, if it cares about black lives.

“Keep your eyes on the prize.”

– Folk song from 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement

***************************

LOOSE THREADS AND AFTERTHOUGHTS:  I thought I would update this post to address a few items I didn’t touch.  Some of them, I think, are obvious, but I seem to keep reading the same thing so….

(1)  “The Seattle protest exposed the white supremacist liberalism that exists.”  Nope.  It really didn’t.  Apparently, some people think that if you boo a rude black person who is stealing the mic, you are booing because the person is black.  Which of course isn’t true.  They were booing because it was rude.  Flashback:

[Kanye] West had said that he was “rude” for interrupting her acceptance speech for Best Female Video. “It was just very rude, period,” West said to Leno. “I’d like to apologize to her in person.”

The people who criticized Kanye weren’t being racist, were they?

Furthermore, go back to the video.  When the protesters call for 4½ minutes of silence for Michael Brown (to symbolize the 4½ hours his body lay on a Ferguson street), the rally organizers raised their hands in support, as did many in the audience.  Yes, there were catcalls and even some slurs (there are always are a few in every crowd).  But to say that it exposed liberal racism?  Based on what?

This isn’t to say that there isn’t white progressive racism.  There is.  Some of it is blatant but exists in small pockets (Yes, certain counties in West Virginia, I am looking at you).  Some of it comes in more subtle forms, like those who insist that they are “colorblind:” and “don’t see race”. That, of course, is its own kind of racism.   Of course, those people exist within all political camps (personally, I have seen more people on the right espouse themselves as “colorblind” than those on the left, but that might just be my experience).  But as I state in the main body of my essay, the forces opposed to what BLM seeks to do are on the right.  And if they visit rallies of THOSE candidates, they will see the racism.  Sanders was an easy target because he was close to the protesters philosophically.  Getting him to condemn racism in BLM language wasn’t like leading a horse to water and forcing him to drink — it was like approaching a horse already drinking from the water.

(2)  “Who cares what the Seattle protesters did?  They were successful, weren’t they?”  Nope.  I’ve already discussed how Sanders had already spoken about the black lives matter before the Seattle protest.  But more than that, some people claim that by focusing on economic injustice, Sanders was avoiding the issue of racial injustice.  That’s simply not true.  Sanders understands, as apparently many BLM supporters do not, that you cannot achieve sweeping revolutionary racial changes unless you address economic injustice.  Race and class are inextricably tied together.

Take two real world examples:  A rich and famous former athlete kills two people in Brentwood, California.  He gets due process of a trial (several trials actually), and retains the best lawyers.  He’s found not guilty.  Compare that to a a guy in Staten Island, New York, who allegedly tried to sell a cigarette on a sidewalk.  He was summarily executed by police who compress his neck and chest until he could no longer breathe.  No trial, no lawyers, no due process guaranteed by the Constitution.  Since both guys were black, you can’t point your fingers at racism.  It has to do with class.

Now, I certainly understand why protesters in the BLM movement would not like it if a presidential candidate (or someone like me) brings up the topic of economic injustice within a dialogue about racial injustice.  It certainly appears like an attempt to skirt the race issue (or even sweep it under the table).  Perhaps that might be considered a “gaffe” by failing to talk about race, instead of economy, to people upset exclusively about race (and who don’t see the economic connection).  But I maintain… unless you are looking for bandaid approaches rather than long term permanent solutions, you need to understand how class and economics play a part in racial injustice.  There are many good books on this issue.

(3)  Black people don’t know what all white people think.  Does this even need to be said?  Any sentence that begins with “White people think that….” is just as prejudiced as a sentence that begins with “Black people think that….”.  I know what a broad brush is, and it is a broad brush no matter who wields it.  It doesn’t help a race movement to make broad-brush statements about someone else’s race.

This is entirely different from pointing out a structure or a political system which benefits one race over another.  That is true and supportable.

So one can say that white people benefit from the current legal and political systems to the detriment of people of color.  But don’t say that all white people want to preserve a system which endows them with white privilege.  That’s simply untrue, and people of color don’t get to ascribe my motives any more than I can accurately ascribe theirs.

In a related vein, don’t claim that the white people at the Sanders event were “inconvenienced”.  That’s spin. Some of them waited a long time to see/hear Sanders.  Some of them wanted to know what he would say.  But in the long run, who cares?  Or “hurt feelings”.  Again, that’s probably not true.  But who cares?  The criticisms against BLM are because BLM is shooting itself in the foot.

(4)  Stop with the ridiculous false comparisons.  Yes, being shot by police is worse than interrupting a political event.  So is dying from breast cancer.  Should the Koman people interrupt a BLM event because dying from breast cancer is worse than a rally?

(5)  What to do, what to do.  Hopefully, the Sanders incident was just a setback for BLM.  Hopefully, they will rethink their broader strategy.  But one should not disparage their efforts completely.  Direct action against those who deny there is a problem (or who take the position that people of color are the problem) will always help.  I don’t mean to turn anyone off to BLM.  They should be a part of YOUR coalition,even if they reject coalition politics.  In that vein, let me point to other organizations worthy of your time and consideration.  Some have been around for a long time.  For example, the Stolen Lives Project and the October 22 Coalition (to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation).

The latter has many local chapters (here’s the one for Greensboro NC) and his calling for a National Day of Protest on October 24.  The event has a wide range of endorsers — from Eve Ensler to Cindy Sheehan (I mention them, because they are white), from the mother of Tamir Rice to the Cornel West.  A coalition.

 

Fox News Airs “Dehumanizing” Segment On Homeless

Yeah, I tend to agree.  This segment plays into some of the worst stereotypes about the homeless.

This “Watter’s World” guy is Jesse Watters, and his shtick is to interview people on the street to show how dumb they are.  It’s always mean-spirited, and a little old (Jay Leno had been doing it for years).  But to Fox, I guess that’s journalism.

Apparently, there is an increase in homeless people in Penn Station, but the only evidence of this is apparently some Fox News staffers and some observations of a few New Yorkers.  And even if there are more homeless in Penn Station, it probably has nothing to due with lax police enforcement under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policing policies, but rather, an increase in the homeless nationwide, as well as chops in FEDERAL funding for things like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (thank you, GOP).

Pity The Rich

Bill3

Monday night, Bill O’Reilly wanted you to know about America’s poor, put-upon rich people.

“[Y]ou can see that taxes are through the roof on affluent Americans and business profits.But for the rest of Americans, things are not so bad.

The bottom 60% of wage-earners pay just 2.7% of federal income taxes.

The bottom 40% actually get money from the feds; they receive payments called earned-income tax credits.

Those bastards. Here rich people are working their besuited asses off every day earning interest and collecting dividends and attending board meetings and having very important lunch meetings over glasses of very important wine while poor people, what with their refrigerator-having and rent-paying and whatnot, are living the easy life on the earned-income tax credit. It’s enough to make rich person Bill O’Reilly sick, it is.

I believe that I’ve cut back investing because of the heavy capital gains hit.

And the bottom 40% have cut back investing because of having no money to invest. I’ve noticed, in fact, that very few of the people serving the very important wine or cleaning the very important conference rooms have been investing very much at all in the American free-enterprise system of late, and no amount of cutting their paychecks or dismantling their unions seems to convince them to invest more. Like Bill O’Reilly, they are probably disheartened by the capital gains tax.

But how much more can the government take from the affluent without crashing the entire free-market economy?

That is a fine question. We could probably look at the historical data to find an answer to that, perhaps looking through the record books to find periods of strong economic growth and look at what the tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations were during those very prosperous times.

Taxex and growth

And let’s remember that well into the 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was above 90%. Today it’s 35%. But both real GDP and real per capita GDP were growing more than twice as fast in the 1950s as in the 2000s. At the same time, the average tax rate paid by the top tenth of a percent fell from about 50% to 25% in the last 60 years, while their share of income increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% before the recession.  The truth is this — lowering the marginal tax rates on the wealthy only adds to income inequality — it doesn’t create economic growth.

But Bill doesn’t care about facts and numbers.  So we should probably just declare that wealthy people pay one million times too much in taxes, and that under the Obama administration their tax burden has increased roughly eleventy billion percent. It may or may not be true, but while being wealthy in America may saddle you with a crippling tax burden and the unenviable duty of funding entire presidential races in order to keep the nation’s priorities in proper order, it at least allows you to never come into contact with any of the unpleasant little snots who might look those numbers up.

The Estate Tax Battle….. Again!

Seems like we do this every year:

The House is gearing up to vote Thursday on repealing the estate tax, an issue that has energized the base in both parties — and that Democrats and Republicans see as a political winner.

Republicans are making the vote the centerpiece of their agenda during a week when millions of taxpayers face the annual IRS filing deadline and anti-tax groups regularly hold protests.

For the GOP, repealing the estate tax — or the “death tax,” as they’ve long called it — is more than just a proposal favored by their supporters in the business community.

Republican leaders insist it’s patently unfair that people pay taxes as they accumulate wealth through the years, only for their heirs to pay additional taxes on that wealth after they die.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise  (R-La.) said Tuesday that it is “morally wrong” for a family’s toughest decision after a death to be figuring out the next steps for their business. “That’s not supposed to be something people have to deal with when they’re grieving for the loss of a loved one,” he told reporters.

Republicans believe that voters agree with them on that point, even as polls have long suggested that most people believe the wealthiest Americans don’t pay enough in taxes.

For their part, Democrats are just as excited for Thursday’s vote. After all, President Obama won his second term in 2012 after explicitly campaigning for higher taxes on the wealthy.

And Democrats say they’re more than happy to have a debate over a repeal proposal that would add $270 billion to the federal debt over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while affecting only a small fraction of estates in the U.S.

“I guess when it comes to helping the wealthiest people in the country, it’s never enough,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said Tuesday with a laugh.

Yup.  Republicans want to repeal the estate tax and add $270 billion to the debt.  But the important part is buried further down the article:

Under current law, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that 5,400 estates will have to deal with the tax over the next several years, out of the well over 2 million deaths that occur annually.

That’s because individuals with estates valued at less than $5.43 million this year, and married couples with estates worth less than $10.86 million, are exempt. The 2013 “fiscal cliff” deal set the current parameters, which also include a 40 percent rate and linking the exemption parameters to inflation.

The estate tax affects only 5,400 taxpayers per year.  Out of a couple million.

The Republicans will try to sell this as something that saves you some tax money, but unless you have an estate valued at 5.4 million, it won’t affect you at all.

Obama’s Tax Proposal

 

So here it is in one graphic:

SOTU-tax-provisions-3.0

 

Basically, the bottom 20 percent would see their after-tax incomes grow by around 1.2 percent, while people in the top 20 percent would receive -0.7 percent less.

But by dollar amounts, the differences between the bottom and the top are much bigger. The bottom 20 percent would receive $175 more per year on average, while the top 20 percent would lose out on $1,800 per year. Things get steeper among higher-income Americans — the top 1 percent would get $29,000 less in after-tax income than they do now, and the top 0.1 percent would get $168,000 less. In the very middle 20 percent, meanwhile, there would be virtually no change — an increase of $7 on average.

Now, get prepared from some complaining about “unfairness”.

And then ask yourself one question: Who would you rather be — a person who makes $15,000 a year suddenly making $15,175 per year, or a person make $10,000,000 a year making only $9,832,000?  Me?  I would rather be the second guy.

But that’s not the REAL question, is it.  The real question is — given that capitalism necessarily has winners and losers (after all, if we’re ALL millionaires, who is going to do the crap jobs), then who within our capitalist system has benefited most from it and should therefore pick up the tab for the government services that protect and provide for us all?

Yup, the second guy.

The one who is probably going to whine about socialism.

P.S.:  Maybe this goes without saying, but this proposal will never pass. The tax proposal is mostly important for two reasons at this point. One is as a piece of the White House budget, which will be released next week (and the center will revise its figures once the budget is out). This tax reform proposal, together with all of the administration’s other spending proposals, will give a sense of the administration’s proposed priorities for the federal government.

But the tax reform proposal, like the president’s budget (which itself will never pass Congress, either), is also a political statement. The tax reform proposal is a way for Obama to emphasize what he believes is wrong in the US economy — that is, that work just isn’t paying the way that it used to. Wages are stagnant, but workers are seeing so many incomes at the top pull away from the bottom 99 percent, thanks in part to income from capital gains (that is, income that doesn’t come from a paycheck).

2015 SOTU Preview

They’re called “Democrat pipe dreams” by some.  I’m referring to Obama’s plans which he will raise in his 2015 State of the Union speech tonight.

Top among those plans is his $60 billion pitch for free two-year community college tuition and $175 billion in new tax benefits for the middle class.  How to pay for that?  In a very West Wing-ish way: he would raise $320 billion over the next 10 years through a capital gains tax hike and new bank fees.

Of course, legislation of this sort is DOA when it comes to the Republican-controlled Congress.  Republicans will want to cut taxes (for the rich) because the economy is good.  Just like the wanted to cut taxes (for the rich) when the economy was bad.

Since Obama surely knows his plans will go nowhere, many say this is just a ploy for 2016 — to get Republicans on the record as being against tax hikes for the rich and education for the middle class.  In other words, they don’t care about income inequality.

incomeinquality

 

Distribution_of_Annual_Household_Income_in_the_United_States_2012.0

A cynical ploy by Obama?  Maybe, although when Republicans in Congress vote over 50 times to repeal Obamacare (which also has no chance of becoming a law in the Obama administration), nobody seems to mind.  And they do this even though Obamacare is clearly working.

obamacareworks

Still, Obama should take a victory lap with this State of the Union.  The crisis that overwhelmed the economy in 2008 has largely passed. Unemployment is down to 5.6 percent. This has been the longest period of sustained private-sector job growth on record. The economy is growing at a rate we haven’t seen since 2003.  Obama’s approval ratings are up, people are more satisfied with the economy than they have been for the past decade, and just seven percent say jobs are the most important problem facing the country, the lowest number since October 2008.

Even a Republican pollster declared that America was busting out of its Recession Era slump.

We are, at this moment, far and away the strongest major economy in the world.  By far.

In much of the country, you can buy gas for less than $2 per gallon, which is, honestly, ridiculous.

oilprices

Unfortunately, while the state of the union is strong, the political climate sucks.  We’re just too polarized to get things done.

polarizednation

daily-cartoon-141027-goptalkingpts-small-690-694

Oh, well.

P.S.  Not really relevant to the SOTU, I suppose, but we’re moving westward and slightly southward.

westwardnation

No Question. The Ferguson Police Are Thugs

I've withheld writing about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.  For those distracted by other news stories, Michael Brown was to start college this week. Instead, his parents are planning his funeral. On August 9th, Mr Brown was shot several times and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, a suburb near St Louis, Missouri. The police say the black 18-year-old attacked the officer and tried to grab his gun. A friend who was with Mr Brown says that on the contrary, he was unarmed and had his hands up in the air.

I've withheld writing about it because for the same reason I withheld writing (for a while) about Treyvon Martin: we just don't know enough facts.  Right now, we still don't know much.  The FBI is investigating the Ferguson shooting, and the Justice Department is looking into the possibility that Mr Brown’s civil rights were violated.  Those are good things.

Another eyewitness stepped forward yesterday — Tiffany Mitchell (age 27) — and I found her retelling of the account to be credible and consistent.

 

According to her, Brown was shot in cold blood, while his hands were raised.

Still, we can't be sure.

But the eyewitness accounts aren't the only thing we can look at.  We can get a sense of the truth by looking at the context.  And if the past few days are any indication, it seems that the Ferguson MO police department has a tendency to Rambo up unnecessarily.  This picture fromj the Times tells it all:

STLOUIS-ss-slide-M1BQ-superJumbo

Yesterday, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was reportedly arrested along with Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post for failing to exit a McDonalds. According to Lowery's Twitter account, the two were "assaulted and arrested" because "officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them." No charges were filed.

There are also accounts and video of the Ferguson police dispensing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at a peaceful (albeit angry) protest.  Pointing high-power military rifles at peaceful protesters.  Deliberate targeting of journalists with tear gas.

 

What's going on?

Well, part of the problem is bad training.  This is a small town police department, not skilled in dealing with situations like this.  

Secondly, the police department has toys, and they are itching to use them.  Since 1996, "the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program." Then the equipment was intended to help fight the war on drugs. With that much firepower in the hands of local police, it was only a matter of time before they began to be used in such obscene excess against Americans.

Ex police chief Joseph McNamara addressed this dynamic in this op-ed:

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on "officer safety" and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today. Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn't Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

"If you build it, they will use it".

If the Ferguson Police department's defense is that its officers showed restraint where Michael Brown is concerned, they have just blown that argument to bits.  These guys have no restraint in them, as last night showed.  

As the New Yorker correspondent wrote this morning:

What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind of municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.

Newsflash: Having A Problem With The 1 Percenters Makes You A Nazi

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared liberals' push to reduce inequality in the United States to Nazi Germany's war on Jews.

In a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal Perkins, a founding member of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, asks whether a "progressive Kristallnacht" is coming. Perkins's letter is in response to an editorial on speech codes at American colleges.

"Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich," Perkins wrote in the letter to the editor.

He continued that he perceives "a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them."

Perkins cites outrage over real-estate prices as an example of overblown liberal outrage.

"This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?" Perkins concluded in the letter.

Perkins is listed as a partner emeritus on the Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers website.

Here's the full letter to the editor:

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?

Tom Perkins

San Francisco

Mr. Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Yes, proposals to tax the richest one percent at a rate closer to what they were paying under Ronald Reagan or to charge giant tech companies a small fee for using city bus stops for their private shuttles…. that's JUST like the Nazis. Except they're not. Really, not even close.

The biggest historical difference of course, is that the Jews in pre-war Germany — even the most wealthy ones — did not have any political power whatsoever which would ensure that their riches were safe, or grew exponentially.  Can that be said of the 1 percenters?  I think not.

Nice try at victimhood though.  I'm sure we won't see the last of it.

Obscene Income Inequality is Obscene

Just 1 percent of the world's population controls nearly half of the planet's wealth, according to anew study published by Oxfam ahead of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

The study says this tiny slice of humanity controls $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion people.

Other key findings in the report:

— The world's 85 richest people own as much as the poorest 50 percent of humanity.

— 70 percent of the world's people live in a country where income inequality has increased in the past three decades.

— In the U.S., where the gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate than any other developed country, the top 1 percent captured 95 percent of post-recession growth (since 2009), while 90 percent of Americans became poorer.

Too Discouraged To Blog

There's this…

1101130923_600 (1)

which is totally true.    The headlines this week, buried in the back of your favorite newsite, said:

Income Disparity Between Richest 1% And Rest Of US Biggest Since ’20s

WASHINGTON (AP) — The gulf between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it’s been since the Roaring ’20s.

The very wealthiest Americans earned more than 19 percent of the country’s household income last year — their biggest share since 1928, the year before the stock market crash. And the top 10 percent captured a record 48.2 percent of total earnings last year.

U.S. income inequality has been growing for almost three decades. And it grew again last year, according to an analysis of Internal Revenue Service figures dating to 1913 by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.

One of them, Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez, said the incomes of the richest Americans surged last year in part because they cashed in stock holdings to avoid higher capital gains taxes that took effect in January.

In 2012, the incomes of the top 1 percent rose nearly 20 percent compared with a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent.

And although a Democrat is president and GOP popularity is at its lowest, it makes no difference, since a minority of Republicans can gum up the works so badly that nothing gets done (including Wall Street reform).

Meanwhile, while progressives care about many issues, those on the right tend to be one-issue voters who act with a passion.  That explains how this could happen:

WASHINGTON — The first recall election in Colorado's history on Tuesday marked a stunning victory for the National Rifle Association and gun rights activists, with the ouster of two Democrats — Senate President John Morse (Colorado Springs) and state Sen. Angela Giron (Pueblo). The two lawmakers were the target of separate recall fights over their support for stricter gun laws earlier this year.

"The highest rank in a democracy is citizen, not senate president," Morse said in his concession speech, as his supporters solemnly watched, some shedding tears.

What originally began as local political fallout over the Democratic-controlled legislature's comprehensive gun control package quickly escalated into a national referendum on gun policy. Morse and Giron both voted in favor of the legislation,signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in March, which requires background checks for all firearm purchases and bans ammunition magazines over 15 rounds.

Gun rights activists initially sought to recall four Democrats they perceived as vulnerable, but only collected the required signatures to challenge Morse and Giron.

That's right.  Some lawmakers backed a bill for stricter gun laws, and for that, they lost in a recall.  Take note — they didn't lose in the normal course of the election cycle.  They were recalled.

And this happened in Colorado… fourteen months after the shooting in Aurora which killed 12 and left 70 injured.

It's frustrating.

Four Graphs: What’s Wrong With America Today

Corporate profits and profit margins are at an all-time high. American companies are making more money and more per dollar of sales than they ever have before.

Corporate profits as a percent of GDP

Wages as a percent of the economy are at all-time low. Why are corporate profits so high? One reason is that companies are paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP.

Profits as a percent of GDP

Fewer Americans are employed than at any time in the past three decades. Another reason corporations are so profitable is that they don’t employ as many Americans as they used to.

Employment as a percent of the population

The share of our national income that is going to the people who do the work  (“labor”) is at an all-time low.  The rest of the income, naturally, is going to owners (“capital”), who have it better today than they have ever had it before.

Labor share of income

Report: Richest 7% Got Richer During Recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new report says the richest Americans got richer during the first two years of the economic recovery while average net worth declined for the other 93 percent of the nation'shouseholds.

The Pew Research Center report says wealth held by the richest 7 percent of households rose 28 percent from 2009 to 2011, while the net worth of the other 93 percent of households dropped by 4 percent.

It says the main reason for the widening gap is that affluent households have stocks and other financial holdings that increased in value, while the less wealthy have more of their assets in their homes, which haven't fully regained their value since the housing downturn.

Remember this?

 

Not Even Trying

Mike Lux wrote this piece yesterday, telling people about a new report on Wall Street. It's not pretty:

There is a new report out this morning once again reminding us of the greatest disappointment progressives have in the Obama administration: the lack of toughness in regards to Wall Street.The report, issued by the Campaign for a Fair Settlement (full disclosure: this is a coalition I have helped in various ways since their founding), is probably the most harshly critical analysis yet by a coalition aligned with traditional progressive Democratic groups. The report opens with this damning list of hard-to-dispute facts, and then just goes on from there:

• The Administration has yet to prosecute a single major bank or top level executive for the widespread fraud leading to the system’s collapse.
• Civil penalties have similarly failed to be imposed on top executives, and fines levied against the banks have been so small as to amount to a minor cost of doing business.
• Settlements have left the banks themselves in control of providing relief and restitution to homeowners, giving them credit for cleaning up their balance sheets more than preventing foreclosures.
• Far from showing any signs of having been chastened, the biggest banks are now even bigger, and have successfully slowed down or weakened key elements of the financial reform bills passed in the wake of the collapse.

And signs even early on in the second Obama administration are not encouraging:

• With no mention of Wall Street and the banks anywhere in either his second inaugural speech or his 2013 State of the Union address, the President appears to be wishing the crisis behind him more than addressing its still festering wounds.
• Statements by new appointees like Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew have suggested that they view the “too big to fail” problem as having been largely solved, even as new studies confirm how much the systematically risky banks still benefit from market assumptions that they retain that status.
• Despite having faced withering rebukes for their handling of key cases and settlements, agencies like the Office of the Comptroller of the currency have reignited that criticism in their attempts to amend the disastrous Independent Foreclosure Review settlement, yet again constructing terms far more favorable to the banks than to homeowners and borrowers.

The report barely mentions the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the one agency where progressives have generally given the administration better marks, it is mostly dismissive of the good things that passed in Dodd-Frank given how slow regulatory agencies have been in writing rules, and it seems to have little faith in the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities Task Force co-chaired by NY AG Eric Schneiderman- which is notable given that the coalition has historically been relatively close to Schneiderman politically.

So there are two questions that Obama loyalists might ask about this report. The first is whether all this negativity is truly deserved. The second is, why are Wall Street accountability activists so obsessed with this issue?

On the first question, I am sad to say the answer is mostly yes. If I had been writing the report, I would have been more positive about the accomplishments of CFPB, would have given the administration more credit on a few things in terms of Dodd-Frank and a few of the appointments they have made, would have pointed out that Republicans are doing everything they can to starve regulatory agencies of resources, and being the loyal Democrat I am, I would have written the report more diplomatically. 

But when you add up all the results of the Obama administration’s dealings with Wall Street, it is hard to avoid the fact that life hasn’t changed much at all for the big banks, and that they continue to make money hand over fist while the rest of the economy is stuck in the mood. It is hard to think of any one of the report’s bullets listed above that aren’t accurate. Most damning of all are these absolutely true words in the report’s conclusion:

“The irony in all this is that the areas in which the Obama Administration has been found most wanting by critics for its handling of Wall Street accountability are not the result of intractable differences with a Congress hamstrung in inaction. Instead, they are areas almost wholly under the sole control of the Administration through its executive powers, and carried out largely through cabinet agencies.”

On the second question, the reason Wall Street activists are so obsessed with the lack of toughness toward Wall Street is that Wall Street is ground zero for the rest of the problems in our economy. These monstrously huge mega-banks completely dominate our economy, siphoning off money that might otherwise go into productive uses in the mainstreet economy so that the big bankers can keep speculating away. And when they screw up in ways that hurt the rest of us, even when they blatantly violate the law, the fact that they are never seriously punished means they have no incentive to stop. 

Until the Obama administration fixes this problem, the rest of the economy is going to keep suffering, and the risk of future financial meltdowns will keep growing.

I'm going to guess that's not in the cards. This round of looting will go unpunished and we're being set up for yet another fall.

Stephen King Goes Cujo On The 1 Percenters

Well, he's a pretty rich guy himself.  Still, he has some thoughts on other rich people and taxes and he minces no words.  An excerpt:

I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

[…]

The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but they’re giving right-wing creepazoids. Here’s an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it won’t do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where food fish are now showing up with black lesions. It won’t pay for stronger regulations to keep BP (or some other bunch of dipshit oil drillers) from doing it again. It won’t repair the levees surrounding New Orleans. It won’t improve education in Mississippi or Alabama. But what the hell—them li’l crackers ain’t never going to go to Deerfield Academy anyway. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Yikes.

The Tone-Deaf Romney Gaffe

If you haven't seen it yet, here is the interview in which Romney said he's "not concerned with the very poor."

 

As an sidenote, kudos to Soledad for actually hearing Romney say those words and asking him about it.  Good journalists listen, and Soledad is a good journalist.

The Romney camp, as well as Romney himself, seem perplexed by this.  "What's the big deal?" they seem to cry. "He didn't say that he doesn't care about the very poor.  Take what he said in context – he's saying there's a safety net (unemployment benefits, food stamps, etc), and he'll fix any problems if there are any in the safety net."

Yeah, we know what he said.  We know what he said in context.  It's still a problem.

First of all, the comment (even in context) suggests that the very poor are just fine with the safety net.  They're not.  As one TV commentor said, "Romney apparently thinks that the safety net is a hammock; it's not."  

As president, Romney should be concerned with the very poor, even if they have a safety net.  It's no fun being very poor, and the objective of any president is to see that there are as few "very poor" as possible.  It's the moral and responsible thing to do.  The "very poor" don't like being a burden on the rest of society, and the rest of the society (quite frankly) would prefer not to shoulder the burden of the "very poor" if at all possible thankyouverymuch.

Secondly, the comment plays into a narrative that already exists about Romney, i.e., that he is an out-of-touch elitist with an agenda that is heavily stacked to help the better-off within society.  Romney has to know this is the common perception of him, so why would he begin any sentence that has the words "I'm not concerned about the very poor"?  How dumb is that?

Even conservatives are scratching their heads about the sheer stupidity of the comment. The Weekly Standard's John McCormack called the former governor's comment "the most stunningly stupid remark of his campaign."

It's obvious that Romney's statement that he's "not concerned about the very poor" is incredibly tone-deaf. A candidate can say he's "focused" on the middle class without saying he's "not concerned" about the very poor, just as a candidate can say he's "focused" on the economy without saying he's "not concerned" about national security or even less vital issues like education.

But Romney's remark isn't merely tone-deaf, it's also un-conservative. The standard conservative argument is that a conservative economic agenda will help everyone…. Had Mitt Romney picked up his conservatism sooner, perhaps he would know these arguments by heart.

McCormack wasn't alone. Michelle Malkin was dismayed, as was The American Spectator and Rush Limbaugh. One conservative joked that Romney came across as "a really bad Stephen Colbert parody of a Republican," while Jonah Goldberg simply asked, "What is wrong with this guy?"

Good question.

Baum Law Firm Closes

Never heard of the law firm of Steven J. Baum?

Well, that law firm, located near Buffalo, represents banks and mortgage servicers when they attempt to foreclose on homeowners and evict them from their homes.  It is the biggest law firm of its type in the State of New York.

The firm has been denounced by consumers and consumer advocates for participating in "robo-signing" and allegedly improper foreclosures, with critics saying it helped speed up foreclosures to benefit its lender clients by allegedly authorizing the "assignment" or transfer of mortgages from one lender to another when critics say it lacked authority to do so.  It's been vilified by advocates, other attorneys, politicians and even judges for submitting sloppy and allegedly fraudulent paperwork that is riddled with legal errors, including faulty affidavits and notarizations.

You would think that a law firm facing such allegations (and a $2 million fine to boot) would clean up its act.  But no.  About a month ago, the law firm had an office Halloween party.  And the employees of the the law firm dressed up as — wait for it — people being foreclosed on.  Here are a couple of pictures:

20111029_NOCERA-IMG-slide-V4QD-articleLarge 20111029_NOCERA-IMG-slide-N9Q1-articleLarge

As you can see, the law firm employees showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.

In response to this obvious callousness, the two major lenders for home ownership, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (themselves not exactly enjoying a wave of public support) decided to “evict” the law firm of Steven J. Baum from its referral list.  That's right, Baum people — no more business for you!

And the results are so so sad.  From the Buffalo News:

This month, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage- finance companies operating under U.S. conservatorship, dropped Steven J. Baum PC from their lists of law firms eligible to handle foreclosures. Servicers including Bank of America Corp. and Ally Financial Inc. also stopped using the firm, which last month agreed to pay the U.S. $2 million and change its practices to resolve a probe of faulty foreclosure filings.

“Disrupting the livelihoods of so many dedicated and hardworking people is extremely painful, but the loss of so much business left us no choice but to file these notices,” Steven J. Baum, who owns the firm, said in the statement.

Payback is a bitch, huh?

To the 67 people employed by the Baum firm… don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

And Kudos to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera for his work on putting a spotlight on these guys.

That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Seems some right-wingers have an axe to grind with Elizabeth Warren, running to unseat Scott Brown as Massachusetts Senator.  Their complaint?  She's rich.

Elizabeth Warren may have embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement and the “99 percent” crowd, but public records reveal the liberal firebrand belongs to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Her financial well-being will likely hand conservatives a new line of attack against the consumer advocate and Democratic Senate hopeful in Massachusetts who has fired up the left and was labeled by one columnist as “the first candidate of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

I don’t begrudge her own personal wealth. I begrudge her hypocrisy of trying to play the demagogue against those who have achieved and who have created wealth,” said Rick Manning of the conservative group Americans for Limited Government.

Added National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh: “Her poll-tested campaign rhetoric simply doesn’t match reality as voters learn more about who Elizabeth Warren really is.”

Warren earned nearly $535,000 in 2009, including $310,000 for teaching law at Harvard University, according to financial disclosure reports she had to file as a political appointee of President Barack Obama.

She took home $507,000 in 2010. Neither of those figures included the salary of her husband, fellow Harvard law professor Bruce Mann, or the $192,722 Warren earned between 2009 and 2010 for chairing the congressional panel tasked with overseeing the bank bailouts. The totals also did not include the roughly $138,000 she earned between September 2010 and July 2011 while launching the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to separate salary records obtained by POLITICO.

The Cambridge couple reported at least $4.6 million in financial investments and property.

This is among the dumbest critiques of a political person that one can conjure.  And it's an old play from the GOP playbook.  Remember how Michael Moore was also a "hypocrite" because he was so concerned about the poor, yet he has made millions off of his movie?

A "hypocrite" is defined as a person who espouses one belief but acts in an inconsistent or opposite manner.  With that simple definition, it is not hypocrisy to be financially successful AND still care about things like income equality.  That's like a saying a healthy doctor is being a hypocrite because he cares about sick and injured people.

And the world is full of wealthy and successful people who champion the poor.  Sean Penn anyone?  Warren Buffet?  Bill Gates?  The late Steve Jobs?  The aforementioned Michael Moore?  And it's not unusual in politics either: FDR?  Any of the Kennedys?

I mean, who buys this hypocrisy argument?  Are there people out there who are really going to think, "Oh, Elizabeth Warren really is one of those richies, and she's only pretending to care about income inequality to get votes?"

Ridiculous.

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%.

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.

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.  

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.

Is Occupy Wall Street the Antithesis of the Tea Party?

A lot of comparisons are being made between these two movements.  And if one were to watch the media, it certainly looks like the fault lines are drawn, i.e.,:

Tea Party = loved by Fox News = conservative
Occupy Wall Street = treated with disdain by Fox News = liberal 

But some are noting that the OSW movement really isn't hippies in a drum circle with union guys giving speeches.  It seems to hae drawn libertarians as well.

But why?

Here's why:

What’s wrong's with the country?  The unity of government and corporate power against people’s freedom and prosperity.

That's a message that both movements can rally behind.

People Like Class Warfare

A new Washington Post/Bloomberg poll asked Americans whether they would support or oppose a variety of ideas to reduce the budget deficit. Unppoular ideas were pretty much what you expect: raising taxes on the middle class, reducing Social Security benefits, and reducing Medicare benefits. But a couple of ideas enjoyed broader support — most of the public approves of reducing military spending and a large majority (68%) wants to see tax increases on those who make $250,000 or more per year.  Even 54% majority of GOP voters support raising taxes on the wealthy.

A chart:

I often wonder what polls GOP leaders read when they say that raising taxes on the wealthy isn't popular.

Meanwhile, we have a vote tonight on the American Jobs Act.  Most Americans support its provisions; it enjoys strong support from economists; it includes ideas from both parties; and the CBO found it will even lower the deficit over the next decade. All told, the plan would likely add about 1.9 million jobs to an economy that desperately needs them. 

And yet, it won't pass:

Democrats would need all 53 of their members to vote yes along with seven Republicans, and already three members of the Democratic caucus have said they will vote no. Sen. Joseph Manchin of West Virginia questions the effectiveness of the package, wondering whether we'll get the bang from the buck. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., both don't like the way Democratic leaders have proposed to pay for this bill with a new 5.6 percent surtax on any personal income over $1 million. They say that this is not the time to be raising taxes on anyone, including millionaires.

I guess that begs a question: "Why isn't this a time to be raising taxes on millionaires?"

The answer, of course, is "because it's an election year", and candidates – Democrats and Republicans – hope for some large contributions from the richies.

We really have to get money out of pollitics.  It's why we can't fix anything.

Elizabeth Warren on “Class Warfare”

(Extended) quote of the day:

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever'.  No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Man, does this woman need to be in the Senate or what???