The Gilded Rage

Citing the repair of the grounds and the restoration of the park to public use, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued an eviction notice for the Occupy encampment at City Hall Park on Friday.  With the mayor’s deadline of 12:01 tomorrow morning looming, Occupy Los Angeles prepares for a major shift in the movement.  It is the last major stronghold to be decamped, but its removal should not be its demise.  Call it Occupy 2.0, an inevitable and necessary transition to a more efficient and effective method of mass protest…

In Los Angeles, though, you might just call it 3.0, for there has been an Occupy Wall Street here long before a few hundred protesters gathered in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.  OccupyLA 1.0 is Skid Row, replete with hundreds of people camping in tents on Wall St. and the adjacent streets around 5th… yes, LA’s Wall St. is in the epicenter of the largest homeless population in the country!  Estimates of the homeless on Skid Row range from a couple thousand to over five thousand, with the fastest growing percentage being families.

Skid Row has a long and lurid history of neglect by the city, specifically in its failure to create enough affordable housing there, which led to mass numbers of people sleeping in the street in tents and cardboard boxes.  The arrests of street camping homeless led the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to sue the city in 2006.  Since that time, homeless have been allowed to erect tents and sleeping areas between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. nightly.

Wall Street, Skid Row is a logical and inspirational destination for the next phase of OccupyLA, as that particular location is emblematic of the modern Gilded Age.  The original Gilded Age was a period marked by Social Darwinism, glaring income disparity, and decadence of the moneyed class.  How apt for our current state of economic affairs, both locally and globally!  OccupyLA has an amazing opportunity to affect change in Skid Row (and beyond) by highlighting the problem of extreme poverty there.  Here’s my proposal…

Post-raid, everyone marches in solidarity to Wall Street, Skid Row, and erects tents on the sidewalk surrounding the Police Station there (for safety precaution).  We look for a building in the area to function as a command center for the committees, security for assets and equipment, and a storage space for tents during the day which will have to be broken down by 6 a.m.  Perhaps a landlord will be able to donate space, or to discount that space for the cause.  Having a physical working location is imperative for continuance of the movement.  Missions could provide showers and bathrooms.  General Assemblies could be held in Pershing Square.  This is the rough framework.

Many will argue that there is inherent danger.  There is.  Both to Occupiers and to the homeless.  There is obviously crime and drug use in Skid Row.  The already scant resources there provided by various missions and community organizations will be further strained.  However, change will not occur from the comfort of a campground in Griffith Park.  Change will not occur from making anyone comfortable, period.  Change comes from pain.  Yes, Skid Row is a problem, but in order for anyone in government to change it, it must be a bigger problem.  This is not a task for the timid, for the faint of heart.  This is a bold call to action, a call to rage…  A call to rage against the modern Gilded Age!


Boycott Black Friday

Boycott Black FridayWhether driving to work listening to the radio or walking through the aisles of my neighborhood Rite Aid, I have been subjected to non-stop Christmas tunes… and it’s not even Thanksgiving!  It used to be that both retailers and radio disc jockeys would respect the traditional timeframe– Turkey Day ’til Christmas Day, but no longer.  It’s all-out psychological warfare to get people into the buying spirit and to goose some early sales.  Many retailers have taken this a step further, and are opening late on Thanksgiving Day, 9 p.m. for Toys “R” Us and 10 p.m. for Wal-Mart, and extra early on Black Friday to the chagrin of employees and consumers alike.

The term “Black Friday” is derived from a couple of things… 1. the profitability of retailers for the year… this is the time that many go “into the black,” that is, when they start to turn a profit for the year, and  2. the mob mentality of the throngs of crazed shoppers.  Black Friday is often the busiest shopping day of the year.

With the Occupy movement gaining traction globally, Black Friday presents the perfect opportunity for protest… boycotting a day emblematic to Wall Street profitability and crony capitalism.  I qualify capitalism as ‘crony’ because Occupy is not an anti-capitalist movement, it’s an anti-crony-capitalist one.  America does not have a capitalist system; it is a plutocracy.

Having spoken with many who support Occupy, but either can’t or don’t want to go to the physical locations thereof, I believe that Boycott Black Friday can be an extremely effective tool for sending a message to Wall Street and to Washington… that message being that Americans are tired of the status quo …that we are tired of plutocratic interests taking priority over the rights of the people …that we know who is pulling the strings of our government.

This may be the easiest protest in which you will ever participate.  I’m not asking you to forsake Christmas and the buying of gifts for your friends and family.  I’m simply asking you not to buy them on Black Friday.  I’m not asking you to do anything, really.  I’m asking you to do nothing, to buy nothing, to enjoy the holidays with your family rather than trudging out amongst the masses to brawl for bargains that are mostly cheap garbage anyway.  Protest with your purse, and boycott Black Friday!

The Fiz …a week in Oz

This week was full of high-profile fizzle, from the firing of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno to the comical debate flop of Rick Perry to Michele Bachmann’s bewildering stance on food stamps to the sexual harassment follies of Herman Cain…

The Fiz ... a week in Oz.Lionized for a career spanning more than four decades with more than four hundred wins, Joe Paterno committed himself and his team to excellence on the field and in the classroom, but nonetheless also committed crimes of cowardice.  His record of excellence will be forever marred by the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.  Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator who retired in 1999, was arrested on November 5, 2011 for sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.  In 2002 Paterno was informed by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant, that he had witnessed Sandusky abusing a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State shower facilities.  Paterno informed his superior, Athletic Director Tim Curley the following day, but did not notify law enforcement nor did he prohibit Sandusky from the Penn State football facilities thereafter.  Paterno fulfilled his legal obligations, but not his moral ones, and lost his legacy as a result when the abuse came to light.

At the Wednesday night Republican economics debate in Detroit, Rick Perry continued his streak of nationally televised brain farts.  Perry declared that he would cut three government agencies upon taking the office of president.  He named the Departments of Education and Commerce, but flailed for nearly a minute trying to remember the third.  Perry actually gave up; shrugged his shoulders; and said, “Oops.”  He acknowledged in the Saturday debate in South Carolina that his third choice is the Department of Energy.  Perry’s “Oops moment” deserves some ridicule for its absent-mindedness, but should be more noteworthy for its content.

The Departments of Education, Commerce, and Energy all play vital roles in American life, and to suggest otherwise is either dangerously naive, or politically calculated to pander to ignorance.  The Department of Education (ED) promotes equal opportunity of education for all American citizens by supplementing state efforts with federal funding, research, and analysis.  A major function of ED is providing student loans for college at affordable interest rates by cutting out the middle man, i.e. the banking industry.

Beyond developing and promoting American business initiatives both domestically and abroad (no minor task in and of itself), the Department of Commerce operates the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Census, the National Weather Service, and the Coast Guard.  That brings us to the Department of Energy (DOE), the agency in charge of national energy innovation, production, conservation, and waste management of all fuel resources, but specifically for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense.  Through its system of National Laboratories, DOE conducts more basic and applied scientific research than any other federal agency…  Serious brainpower that Perry himself is lacking.

Michele Bachmann said the following in the Saturday Republican foreign policy debate in South Carolina:

“What I would want to do is be able to go back and take a look at Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society.  [It] has not worked, and it’s put us into the modern welfare state.  If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps…  They save for their own retirement security.  They don’t have AFDC.  They don’t have the modern welfare state, and China’s growing.  And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with the Great Society, and they’d be gone.”  (

The Great Society was a 1960s Democratic social reform agenda whose primary objective was to eliminate poverty and racial injustice.  Some legislation and programs enacted by President Johnson include civil and voting rights acts, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Head Start, major amendments to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the National Endowment for the Arts, the creation of public broadcasting, the Department of Transportation, consumer protection laws, and various environmental conservation acts.  The AFDC hasn’t existed since the 1996 reform of welfare.

Michele Bachmann wants America to be more like communist China, which by the way actually DOES have programs for both social and medical insurance.  Hmmm…  Does Bachmann live in an alternate reality where she thinks communism is capitalism?  She is definitely somewhere over the rainbow…  Truly bewildering.  (

And last, but certainly not least, is our Tin Man Herman Cain, who is proving week by week that cold and heartless is a winning combination in the Republican primary field.  He first claimed ignorance, then forgot, then refuted allegations of sexual harassment lodged against him by MULTIPLE undisclosed women, two of which were settled by his former employer, the National Restaurant Association, to the tune of $45,000 and $35,000 separately.  Cain defended himself initially by disputing the trustworthiness of unnamed sources, who, bound by non-disclosure agreements, declined to publicly come forward.

Monday, however, new accuser Sharon Bialek entered the fray with renowned feminist lawyer Gloria Allred in tow.  Now Cain angrily refuses to answer questions about the sexual abuse allegations, and jokes about Anita Hill who famously accused Cain’s hero, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment in his 1991 confirmation hearings.

As if the sex abuse wasn’t enough evidence for the absence of a certain vital, blood-pumping organ, Herman Cain unabashedly admonishes the jobless to blame themselves for not being employed nor wealthy; supports the building of an electrified border fence that could kill illegal immigrants; discriminates against the followers of Islam; and callously defends his 9-9-9 tax plan as a way to broaden the tax base on the backs of the poor.

Like the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Tin Man, these real people have very real character flaws.  The blunders of Paterno, Perry, Bachmann, and Cain have a very serious likelihood of derailing their Technicolor dreams.  It turns out that the Yellow Brick Road to Oz is also paved with good intentions…

Free Market Fairytales: Job Creators

Parsing Republican economic rhetoric these days is almost as difficult as trying to determine the likelihood of Mitt Romney’s presidential nomination.  The constant trickle-down propaganda for less taxation of the wealthy has hit shitstorm proportions.  Don’t tax small business!  It’s the engine of economic growth!  Taxing the job creators will disincent them from creating jobs!

No, what disincents small business from creating jobs right now is not the threat of raising the top tax bracket by 4% to Clinton era levels.  It’s the lack of consumer demand and the decline in economic growth not just domestically but abroad… not to mention the impending collapse of the euro.  It is pure mythology to assert that a modest increase in taxes will kill economic growth and send the nation on the path to a Socialist regime.   Income tax rates have been substantially higher, up to 90%, and were in effect during some of the greatest boom times of this nation’s history.  I am by no means advocating a 90% tax rate, but I do advocate some restoration of fiscal sanity… i.e. raising taxes at the top by a small amount in order to pay down deficits without having to slash important social programs for those most in need.

How did the party that holds the mantle of fiscal responsibility so high become blind to the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously cutting taxes (revenue) while cutting deficits (debt)?  This philosophy of voodoo economics was put forth by Reagan, but notably decried by Bush I.  Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, has run with Reaganomics ever since, and made it his life’s mission to keep any legislator from ever raising taxes for any reason.  He’s the guy you can thank for the debt ceiling clusterfuck.

Back to “job creators.”  Many of these mythologized small businesses are in fact 1 person sole proprietors who employ no one other than the owner, e.g. doctors, lawyers, bloggers…  (Heh. )  Over 21 million of 27 million small businesses in 2009 census data fit that description.  So let’s please drop this whole “small businesses are the job creators” farce.  Yes, many small businesses do employ, but many go out of business, quickly taking any nominal amount of jobs they create with them.  Think local restaurant or trendy boutique.  When economists or politicians speak of “job creators,” they would have you believe that every burgeoning small business is the next Google, whose growth we will kill if we raise the top marginal tax rate.  This argument is simply new rhetoric for an old ruse… tricking the public into believing that lowering the tax burden for the very wealthiest will benefit everyone else.  The ‘trick’ of trickle-down economics is making people believe in financial unicorns.


The Invisible Handjob of the Market

The Invisible Handjob of the MarketIn his seminal economic treatise Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith laid the philosophical groundwork for the concept of “an invisible hand,” which was co-opted into “the invisible hand of the market” by later neoclassical economists.  Smith believed that an individual rationally pursuing his own self-interest, as if led by an invisible hand, would unintentionally promote the greater good of society.  The neoclassicists thought that the invisible hand of the market forces of supply and demand, and self-interested maximization of profit were the most efficient regulators and allocators of resources.  However, the idea that markets could best regulate themselves was never propounded by Smith, who in fact advocated government intervention in the economy insofar that it could prevent abuse and spur competition.

Unfettered markets do not always lead to efficient outcomes because information is asymmetric; markets are imperfect; and financial actors can be irrational.  According to Nobel Prize-winning economist and former Chief Economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz, “I don’t think today anybody would claim that the pursuit of self-interest by the bankers, which is sometimes called greed, has led to the well-being of all of society.”

Economists like Alan Greenspan who have hi-jacked Adam Smith to advocate deregulation of the financial markets have committed a great laissez-fraud.  Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are aiding and abetting the banking industry in massive corruption.  Why is there no return of Glass Steagall?  Why is America privatizing profits and subsidizing losses? Where are the prosecutions of Wall Street financiers and government officials responsible for the mess?

Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein have benefitted enormously from the havoc of the 2008 banking crisis, both personally and professionally, but neither has been penalized for their roles in causing it.  The banks that were deemed “too big to fail” are now bigger, and their profits, too.  De-regulating the market has certainly proved to be profitable… for the circle jerks.

Inside Job documentary, dir. Charles Ferguson

Wonk Wednesday: It’s the Economy, Stupid

With the term ‘socialism’ being bandied about so freely these days, I thought it might be instructive to actually define the type of economy that exists in America today.  No, not capitalism… Nor communism.  Not even socialism….  Gasp!  A mixed economy.  Verbatim, courtesy of…

Socialism:  1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole 2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory 3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles

Capitalism:  an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth

Communism:  1. a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state 2. (often initial capital letter) a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party 3. (initial capital letter) the principles and practices of the Communist party 4. communalism

Mixed economy:  an economy in which there are elements of both public and private enterprise

Plutocracy:  1. the rule or power of wealth or of the wealthy 2. a government or state in which the wealthy class rules 3. a class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth

I included the last definition as a precursor to my forthcoming argument.  Yes, we have a mixed economy, one in which public and private enterprise co-exist, but I believe, as do many others, that the defining characteristic of this economy is its overwhelming bias to moneyed corporate interests.  These days people are using the term “corporatist,” but that is just a new term for an old game, one with its genesis in the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, with the creation of the modern industrial economy.  The plutocracy of today has spawned the protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and rightly so.

America now has income disparity on par with Mexico and the Philippines.  Half of American households, a household being two earners with two children, now make less than $50k annually.  Poverty amongst women and children has soared, along with the incomes of the wealthiest 1% of Americans.  CEO compensation has spiked to over 300 times that of the average worker… This should be recognized as a problem without the proponents of the argument, such as myself, being labeled ‘Socialists.’  Most of us do not object to capitalism– but we definitely object to the crony capitalist variety, as it destroys the fabric of our democracy through the denial of civil liberty.