Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Class Warfare? Who's the Aggressor?

Almost since the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street "movement," detractors like Mayor Bloomberg and other 1 percenters, have tried to characterize the protestors as engaging in or encouraging "class warfare." In a sense, it's true. The 99 percenters are out on the streets protesting what Wall Street represents—the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class stagnating or shrinking. We often hear that the "rich," the corporations, the banks are the providers of jobs. Without them or by attacking them (according to Bloomberg), the protestors want to destroy the very underpinnings of the job creators.

Importantly, it has also been said that by not allowing corporations to pay their CEOs a "competitive" salary, those same CEOs—that irreplaceable talent poole of Harvard Business School knowhow—will go to work elsewhere, and America will lose its competitive edge. So, it is necessary to allow capitalism to do its work, to reward "hard" work and ingenuity without restriction; to allow banks to compete in the world banking system; to allow corporations to compete globally. It is said that we must have multinational corporations in the U.S. to take business and enterprise to the rest of the world.

Let's see...CEOs in the US whose compensation is restricted will go...where, exactly?

Well, according to Steve Eder (Reuters, Sept. 23, 2009), Chairman Jiang Jianqing, of the world's largest bank in China,  Industrial and Commercial Bank, made just $234,700 in 2008. Compare this to Jamie Dimon, CEO of the world's fourth-largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, who made $19,600,000. Chairman Jianqing's compensation is less than 2 percent of Dimon's compensation.

So, let's say that the IRS code allowed for an individual income tax on Dimon's 19.2 million at a 50 percent rate...let's just say that, not that I'm proposing it; or let's say we just passed a law to squash such obscene compensation packages and paid Dimon and other CEOs just...oh...I don't know...10 percent of their former salaries.

I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now. We'll lose Dimon and CEOs of American banks and American corporations to our competitors! I wouldn't bet on it. Where are they going to go? Dimon would still be making almost four times what his Chinese counterpart would make—not that I'm seriously suggesting that, either. This extreme example illustrates a point: there is no cogent argument detractors of Occupy Wall Street can make about class warfare and wanting to destroy jobs on Wall Street (symbolizing at least the too-big-to-fail banks and the two-big-for-their-britches American CEOs)

No, the class warfare is made by the banks, like Bank of America and Chase on their credit card holders, or now debit card holders (who made this switch to avoid the astronomically high, usury interest rates. BofA wants to charge a $5/month fee for debit cards, increase the swipe fees to merchants for debit cards. They want to force credit card use on the 99 percenters, rather than using debit cards. Chase wants to charge $20/month on checking accounts that don't keep a balance of at least $15,000 in the checking account. And with Congress' credit card reforms of 2009, which gave banks 90 days to set up their new weaponry, with interest rates starting at 17 percent interest, instead of the 9 percent interest before the reforms by Congress, most of the too-big-to-fail banks were able to begin grabbing even more of the 99 percenters' money and are now making even greater profits off the backs of ordinary Americans.

There simply are not enough shame-inducing adjectives to describe the real aggressors in this current issue of occupying Wall Street. It's unbridled greed, combined with lack of any real regulation on banks and banking "products" that pose the real warfare.

What I don't understand is how anyone who makes less that $50,000/year could ever fight on the side of the banks and the corporations in this "war." Talk about Ponzi schemes!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Burgeoning of the Common Man

The Koch Brothers, Billionaire Owners of the Tea Party
The Tea Party is not really a "grassroots" movement. It was begun and funded by the billionaire Koch brothers—and then ordinary folk began showing up at their rallies. And it quickly became obvious that the Tea Party was a gathering place for right wingers, but yes, attendees are ordinary folk in every other sense of the word. I was present at a well-attended Tea Party rally right here in my city. Obama was already President, and it seemed that the main agenda item was anti-Obama messages on signs and in the attitudes of the attendees.

On the other hand, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which seemingly sprang up overnight and is now into its third week is a grassroots movement. As I said in a previous post, it may dissolve as quickly as it arose. There are no financiers with a personal ax to grind funding this honest to goodness movement. It runs on people power, the 99 percenters who show up with their homemade signs, not the slick, mass-produced signs one sees at the Tea Party rallies. But in three weeks the movement has spread around the world, a thousand cities and growing. People of all walks of life and political persuasion want to participate. It has taken on a life of its own.

In the United States, people are so fed up with the too-big-to-fail banks and the too-owned-by-big-business-to-do-anything-for-ordinary-citizens congress that they show up at these rallies to lend their voices to the protests. We gather energy and enthusiasm from one another—even those of us who are a thousand miles away from Wall Street. Why? Because the banks that were bailed out and have now turned around and started sticking us common folk with burgeoning fees on credit cards, debit cards, and additional fees on our limited bank accounts; these banks are everywhere, set up to grab our hard-earned money any way they can. (If you haven't already, close your Bank of America, Chase or other national chain bank to a hometown bank.) Meanwhile, Congress is catatonic. It's business as usual at the banks and no action as usual in Congress. The politicians are too afraid to act and jeopardize their jobs, lest they displease someone to whom they are beholden. And apparently it is not to the common citizen that they are beholden. Votes are done in political party blocs, rather than cast by thinking individuals with no ties to one party or another.

And yet...there is a vast middle between all the extremes, those who vote for the person, not the party, who sometimes vote Republican, sometimes vote Democratic, sometimes vote Independent. These are the ones who appear to be joining the Occupy Wall Street movement, bringing with them individual reasons for supporting this growing sentiment.

I am an independent voter. I'm a registered "Independent," but that means nothing politically, because I vote for the person of either party who I think is most reasonable, judicious, and who is actually able to see shades of gray. I sometimes support the same candidate each time he or she comes up for re-election, but only because that senator or representative has acted in good faith while in office. I might not agree with that person on every issue, but I have certain issues that must be supported by a candidate before I vote for him or her. If the candidate, once in office, sells out on those issues, I do not support that person the next time.

My single vote doesn't add up to much, but when it intersects with a million other voices, it begins to gain power. I've hit the mark a few times and the candidate I supported won that particular time for that particular office because I and a whole lot of others happened to agree when we individually stepped into the voting booth.

I believe the Occupy Wall Street movement is an effect of many people happening to agree at this time that what Wall Street represents, who Wall Street represents, has got to be changed fundamentally. How this translates into change in the 2012 election cycle remains to be seen. I do not need a litmus test pledge be signed by any candidate whom I support. That smacks too much of what the Koch Brothers' Tea Party requires in its litmus test of a candidate. And, again, the Tea Party is not a grassroots, people-powered movement, although ordinary people have joined it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Hereby Join the Occupy Wall Street Movement

The movement afoot in the country at the moment to "Occupy Wall Street" might be too topical for it to endure, and its incoherence (what do these people want?) might make it fall apart like a sand castle at high tide. Then again, the movement's incoherence might instead be its strength. It becomes a place to air one's own grievances, gives voice to a diversity of ills, while having the focus of place and people we might hold responsible. In fact, holding corporations responsible for the country's ills, rather than "big government" might just be the right place, since corporations control our government, and the government is now really just a tool of the corporations.

I don't know if incoherence will work, but it just might. After all, obfuscation is the preferred method of confusing the masses, for example, on just who is responsible for this recession (2011). The Republicans certainly don't want the masses to think "stock market crash 2008," nor remember that the housing bubble burst just before that, or derivatives, or deregulation of the banks. Soon, voters will be thinking that Obama is responsible for all of it. I got an email just last night from the Tea Party, and even further to the right, into Separatist territory—the guys that want to re-revolutionize our Constitution—a "Declaration to Restore the Constitutional Republic." The fringe has now moved into the mainstream.

So, is the "Occupy Wall Street" a "tea party" as well? Well, no, it's not financed by billionaires like the tea party is, and the people who're out marching on Wall Street are there because...well...because they've got grievances beyond getting rid of President Obama. I have concerns, too, and that's why I'm joining the movement—albeit virtually.

Credit Card Reform?
When Congress and the President "reformed" the credit card industry, for example, they gave the banks ninety days to get their machinery into place before the reforms took place. And the banks sent out the changes to the credit card agreements while they still could. They raised the minimum interest rates to 17 percent to 21 percent, whereas they used to have rates as low as 9 percent. Any new credit card offers come with "low" interest rates of between 17 and 21 percent.

Bank of America has just announced debit card recurring fees, making debit cards less preferable than they used to be. They noted that consumers were using debit cards instead of credit cards and by imposing a new host of fees on debit cards, consumers will return to using credit cards at the grocery store to buy milk and eggs and will thereby build 21 percent interest into those consumables—as they were before the crash of 2008.

Deregulation? Here We Go Again.
How is it that the banks have virtually no interest rates that enable them to borrow money from one another, at around 1 percent, and yet they must double and triple interest rates to consumers? They do it because the government and the politicians allow them to. This keeps ordinary American in thrall to their debt.

Payday Loans
Further, there has been a rise in the loan-shark industry. You now see a "Payday Loans" company on virtually every street corner that isn't also occupied by a Starbucks. These companies prey on the least able to pay. "Payday" loans are small, short-term loans made by check cashers or similar businesses at extremely high interest rates. Typically, a borrower writes a personal check for $100-$300, plus a fee, payable to the lender. The lender agrees to hold onto the check until the borrower's next payday, usually one week to one month later; only then will the check be deposited. In return, the borrower gets cash immediately. The fees for payday loans are extremely high: up to $17.50 for every $100 borrowed, up to a maximum of $300. The interest rates for such transactions are staggering: 911% for a one-week loan; 456% for a two-week loan, 212% for a one-month loan. (Source: Consumer's Union). But is the government regulating this industry? Barely. I would be more likely to believe that many congressmen have investments in the industry.

The Crumbling of America
Our infrastructure is crumbling all across America, from bridges to roads and rail. Our government, now paralyzed by Republicans and spineless Democrats, will not address these issues.

Our public schools are falling apart and teachers can't teach in the environment that exists in the schools. The best of them fund their own classroom supplies, since school budgets no longer provide them. I know teachers who also buy books for their students.

Our politicians have no clue how to help consumers pay for the high cost of health care. Rather than figuring out how to pay for this high cost health care, they should be figuring out ways to lower the costs. But they're not. In reality, the health care providers, the prescription drug companies, and all associated corporations are the ones writing the legislation. I want health care costs brought down, not try to figure out a way to pay whatever the medical professions says the costs are. I recently had a small skin-cancer spot on my chest scraped off by a dermatologist. It took a minute. It cost over a thousand dollars. My health insurance paid a portion of it. I was left owing $300.00 on my own. I don't want the politicians to figure out a way to pay for this. I want politicians in Congress to simply lower the costs of this service. Did you know there is a related industry that supplies hospital quality furniture to hospitals? I'm not talking about the patient beds, but the chairs, sofas, drapes—anything a hospital could purchase from a local furniture store. But no, they have to pay $5,000.00 for a waiting room sofa from a hospital furniture provider, rather than buying one for $500.00. The costs are passed onto patients. You need a pain pill of OTC medication? You'll pay prescription-rate prices. The medical industry is an all-you-can-charge buffet.

Right wingers take umbrage when someone points out that health care costs in other countries is a tenth or a hundredth of the costs here in the US and that it is universal health care. They counter with the notion that our system is the best medical system in the world. Woah, Nellie! It's not even close to being the best health care in the world. Among the first world countries, the US is somewhere near the bottom. That's because our government is owned and operated by the health care corporations. Why do our prescription drugs cost so much, when in the rest of the world, the same drugs, by the same companies are so much less expensive?

Yes, the system is gamed here in the US, gamed by what Wall Street represents, gamed by the one-percent club, the filthy rich, the multinational corporations. I don't want to bring these corporations down. I want to make them live by the same rules that the rest of us have to live by—laws and taxes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Late Night Thoughts

There's just something thought provoking about being awake in the middle of the night, when the city all around me is sleeping, except for those few night owls one sees in all night diners. I don't go out much late at night like I used to when I was an undergraduate or even a little older—not when I'm most comfortable in front of my computer. And besides, I can be in my night clothes at home. But none of this is very thought provoking; like AM Coast to Coast radio, this is the time of night when my thoughts are most untethered and can head off into odd directions.

I think of all the crazy people I've known in my life, or the misled followers, or those that are credulous and quick-to-believe the outrageous. Hmmm...I guess I'm not ready to write about those people, since some of them may have been lovers, spouses, siblings, cousins. In general, though, it seems that people are becoming quicker to grasp the old beliefs that have been around since the ancient civilizations, preferring the comfort of certainty over the discomfort of these uncertain times. We still have those who consort with astrologers, even though it's based in the Ptolemaic cosmology that the Earth is the center of the universe and, hence, the heavenly bodies revolve around it. I can remember in the nineteen sixties when Time Magazine's cover asked: Is God Dead? And I can remember when people rolled their eyes if someone claimed to talk to God. Now they ask what God said. And it seems the televangelists are getting nuttier and richer and more outrageous these days. Lesbians are blamed for hurricanes, and Pat Robertson's pronouncements have to be routinely recanted. It's almost like a planned tactic. I'll say what I really believe, get the idea out there so people will believe it, and then, when I'm pushed into a corner, I'll say I misspoke. No. The plan is to make outrageous, hateful statements, let them simmer in this new believe-anything environment, and then quietly apologize—and not really mean it.

I think of myself in the mid-nineteen seventies, fresh out of the Air Force, new into marijuana, LSD, and an eager member of a cult—but not one where the leader was religion-based. No...he was teaching us to attain "cosmic" consciousness. We zipped right on past being followers of a holy man, seeking some sort of heavenly attainment, and went for the gold, expanding our own consciousness to fill the universe. I realized I was dead inside, as a result of this teaching one day in San Antonio, Texas, when I was walking home and it was raining gently, and I no longer felt a visceral pleasure in the rain on my skin or felt the sweetness of such a day. I felt nothing, and when I got home and looked in the mirror, my eyes looked glazed over. I was no nearer to attaining cosmic consciousness than I was expanding out of my body and attaining information from "all that is" around me.

It took me over a year to think myself out of this belief system. I went back to college, and one day, when I was going through the student union building on my way to class, a shaved-headed guy in an orange robe approached and asked if I wanted to attain the peace that surpassed all understanding. I looked at him, saw his own glazed eyes, looked at my watch, and back at him.

"Not right now," I said, "I've got a French class." I'm sure he thought that I was the one who was missing out on a universal truth, a comforting certainty, and that I was lost in the illusion, that "reality" was far different than what I thought it was. That may be true. I don't know. I find the comfort in knowing that I don't have all the answers about everything and never will. I take comfort in my curiosity and my doubt and I'm not ready to give up the journey to who knows where for the stasis of certainty.