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Fascism and the Dangers of Economic Concentration

Tech­nocrats march­ing in sup­port of aus­ter­i­ty, ready to slash gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

A 1980 broad­cast high­lights eco­nom­ic con­cen­tra­tion and its his­tor­i­cal rela­tion­ship to fas­cism. The issue of the “1%” ver­sus the “99%” is not new.

After dis­cus­sion of the Amer­i­can cor­po­rate con­nec­tions to the Third Reich, this pro­gram con­cludes with analy­sis of the per­ils of the con­cen­tra­tion of eco­nom­ic pow­er.

Sev­er­al min­utes in length, the con­clu­sion of that pro­gram can be accessed here: Lis­ten.

Of para­mount sig­nif­i­cance is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that con­cen­tra­tion of eco­nom­ic pow­er in the Unit­ed States might even­tu­al­ly pro­duce for Amer­i­cans what it did for Ger­mans in  the 1930’s.

The fact that many of the most impor­tant U.S. com­pa­nies and indi­vid­u­als were deeply involved with Nazi indus­try and finance informs us that such a pos­si­bil­i­ty is not as remote as it  might appear at first.

(These same inter­ests attempt­ed to over­throw Franklin D. Roo­sevelt in a coup attempt in 1934, seek­ing to install a gov­ern­ment mod­eled on Mus­solin­i’s “cor­po­rate state.” Mus­soli­ni and his fascisti are pic­tured at right.)

With the very able assis­tance of co-host Mark Ortiz, Dave record­ed the first of the archive shows, Uncle Sam and the Swasti­ka (M11), on Memo­r­i­al Day week­end of 1980 (5/23/80).

The pro­gram echoes at the dis­tance of thir­ty years the warn­ing that James Stew­art Mar­tin sound­ed in his 1950 book All Hon­or­able Men. Not­ing how attempts at break­ing up Hitler’s Ger­man eco­nom­ic pow­er base had been foiled by the Ger­mans’ pow­er­ful Amer­i­can busi­ness part­ners, Mar­tin detailed the same pat­tern of con­cen­tra­tion of eco­nom­ic pow­er in the Unit­ed States that had led to the rise of Nazism in Ger­many.

In 2005, Uncle Sam and the Swasti­ka was dis­tilled into For The Record #511. Since then, the Amer­i­can and glob­al economies have tanked and may well get worse. The sig­nif­i­cance of an eco­nom­ic col­lapse for the imple­men­ta­tion of a fas­cist cabal fig­ures sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the sev­er­al min­utes of this excerpt.

At more than 30 years’ dis­tance from the orig­i­nal record­ing of Uncle Sam and the Swasti­ka, the ques­tions raised in this broad­cast loom large. Will the “calm judge­ment of busi­ness necessity”–fascism–that Mar­tin fore­saw in 1950 come to pass?

We should note that Mus­soli­ni termed the fas­cist system–which he christened–“the cor­po­rate state.” Anoth­er way of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing it would be to think of fas­cism as “cap­i­tal­ism on full auto.”

Discussion

110 comments for “Fascism and the Dangers of Economic Concentration”

  1. Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 7, 2012, 8:02 pm
  2. ****pun alert!!*****

    It looks like Mitt might have his mitts on some mon­ey from Macau:

    TPM­Muck­rak­er
    McCain: Adel­son Bring­ing ‘For­eign Mon­ey’ Into U.S. Cam­paign

    Eric Lach June 15, 2012, 10:47 AM

    Sen. John McCain (R‑AZ) told PBS’ News Hour that bil­lion­aire con­ser­v­a­tive casi­no mogul Shel­don Adel­son’s big dona­tions are intro­duc­ing “for­eign mon­ey” into the pres­i­den­tial race.

    Adel­son has been by far the largest pub­lic donor to out­side spend­ing groups this cycle. He helped prop up Newt Gin­grich’s pri­ma­ry cam­paign and, just this week, The Wall Street Jour­nal report­ed that Adel­son had decid­ed to give $10 mil­lion to Restore Our Future, a pro-Mitt Rom­ney super PAC.

    [M]uch of Mr. Adel­son’s casi­no prof­its that go to him come from this casi­no in Macau,” McCain told Judy Woodruff in an inter­view that aired Thurs­day night. “Which says that, obvi­ous­ly, maybe in a round­about way, for­eign mon­ey is com­ing into an Amer­i­can cam­paign.”

    McCain, who once worked with for­mer Sen. Russ Fein­gold (D‑WI) on the Bipar­ti­san Cam­paign Reform Act, a.k.a. the McCain-Fein­gold bill, called the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed deci­sion the Supreme Court’s “most mis­guid­ed, naive, unin­formed, egre­gious deci­sion” in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

    ...

    Uh on, Newt’s Mit­t’s sug­ar-dad­dy is mak­ing dona­tions from his Macau-based casi­no pro­ceeds? That cer­tain­ly sounds like an oppor­tu­ni­ty for for­eign mon­ey to flow unde­tect­ed into the US pres­i­den­tial race.

    And since this casi­no is based in a asian-mob­ster haven, it seems like Mitt might have mob­ster mon­ey prob­lem. Oh well, I’m sure he’s Tri­ad-ing to avoid­ing it:

    New York Observ­er
    Gin­grich Backer Shel­don Adel­son Faces Ques­tions About Chi­nese Busi­ness Affairs

    By Steve Huff 1/29 3:39pm

    Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Newt Gin­grich is hav­ing a tough enough time with front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney surg­ing in the polls pri­or to the upcom­ing Flori­da pri­ma­ry. Now he may also have to con­tend with pesky ques­tions about a gov­ern­ment probe into the over­seas busi­ness affairs of Las Vegas bil­lion­aire Shel­don Adel­son, who may be the finan­cial sav­ior of Mr. Gin­grich’s cam­paign.

    Mr. Adel­son’s Las Vegas Sands Cor­po­ra­tion has been under fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion since ear­ly 2011 by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the Secu­ri­ties Exchange Com­mis­sion for pos­si­ble vio­la­tions of the For­eign Cor­rupt Prac­tices Act (FCPA). ABC News reports that cor­po­rate doc­u­ments con­tain alle­ga­tions of brib­ing offi­cials on the Chi­nese island of Macau.

    A sep­a­rate civ­il suit filed in Neva­da in 2010 alleges Mr. Adel­son ordered Steven Jacobs, the for­mer C.E.O. of Las Vegas Sands Cor­p’s Chi­nese affil­i­ate, to stay qui­et about alleged entan­gle­ments “with Chi­nese orga­nized crime groups, known as Tri­ads.” Mr. Jacob­s’s suit char­ac­ter­ized Adel­son’s demands as “repeat­ed and out­ra­geous.” Mr. Jacobs also claimed Mr. Adel­son want­ed him to essen­tial­ly manip­u­late Macau offi­cials to assist com­pa­ny busi­ness inter­ests in the region.

    ...

    ***the pun alert has been can­celled***

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 15, 2012, 2:03 pm
  3. Clear­ly what we need is more tax cuts for the ‘job cre­ators’:

    Rich­est Amer­i­cans’ net worth jumps to $1.7 tril­lion: Forbes

    By Dan Burns

    NEW YORK | Wed Sep 19, 2012 3:08pm EDT

    (Reuters) — The net worth of the rich­est Amer­i­cans grew by 13 per­cent in the past year to $1.7 tril­lion, Forbes mag­a­zine said on Wednes­day, and a famil­iar cast pop­u­lat­ed the top of the annu­al list, includ­ing Bill Gates, War­ren Buf­fett, Lar­ry Elli­son and the Koch broth­ers.

    The aver­age net worth of the 400 wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans rose to a record $4.2 bil­lion, up more than 10 per­cent from a year ago, while the low­est net worth came in at $1.1 bil­lion ver­sus $1.05 bil­lion last year, the mag­a­zine said. Sev­en in ten of the list’s mem­bers made their for­tunes from scratch.

    It was a bad year, how­ev­er, for social media moguls, whose net worth fell by a com­bined $11 bil­lion. On the heels of Face­book Inc’s rocky IPO in May, the No. 1 social net­work’s chief exec­u­tive, Mark Zucker­berg, was the year’s biggest dol­lar los­er: his net worth fell by near­ly half to $9.4 bil­lion from $17.5 bil­lion. He also slid to the No. 36 slot from No. 14 a year ago, Forbes said.

    Face­book shares have fall­en 40 per­cent from their IPO price of $38 a share in May.

    Dis­mal per­for­mances by oth­er social media stocks dropped some exec­u­tives from the list alto­geth­er, includ­ing Groupon Inc Chair­man Eric Lefkof­sky, No. 293 on last year’s list, and Zyn­ga Inc Chair­man and CEO Mark Pin­cus, No. 212 on the 2011 list.

    “The gap between the very rich and mere­ly rich increased and helped dri­ve up the aver­age net worth of The Forbes 400 mem­bers to an all-time record $4.2 bil­lion,” said Forbes Senior Wealth Edi­tor Luisa Kroll.

    Col­lec­tive­ly, this group’s net worth is the equiv­a­lent of one-eighth of the entire U.S. econ­o­my, which stood at $13.56 tril­lion in real terms accord­ing to the lat­est gov­ern­ment data. But the 13 per­cent growth in the wealth of the rich­est Amer­i­cans far out­paced that of the econ­o­my over­all, help­ing widen the chasm between rich and poor.

    Forbes attrib­uted the growth in net worth in part to the per­for­mance of the stock mar­ket and a recov­er­ing real estate mar­ket.

    But while their wealth grew faster than the econ­o­my as a whole, which expand­ed at an ane­mic 1.7 per­cent annu­al rate in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2012, the super rich gen­er­al­ly failed to keep pace with the stock mar­ket. The bench­mark Stan­dard & Poor’s 500 index rose near­ly 20 per­cent over the 12 months end­ed August 24, the last date of mar­ket per­for­mance mea­sured for this year’s list.

    ...

    Ah trick­le-down eco­nom­ics, the eco­nom­ic equiv­a­lent of drink­ing your own urine: It might help you sur­vive for a short peri­od of time in an extreme emer­gency, but it’s real­ly not doc­tor rec­om­mend­ed.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 1, 2012, 11:11 am
  4. @Pterrafractyl
    I claim exclu­sive rights to the term PPoP (pee pee on the poor), which I cre­at­ed back in the 1980s as a sum­ma­tion of Rea­gan’s eco­nom­ic the­o­ry. You’ve come dan­ger­ous close to infringe­ment in this last com­ment.

    Posted by Dwight | October 2, 2012, 6:02 am
  5. @Dwight: It’s all good. Trick­le down eco­nom­ics may have been the appro­pri­ate anal­o­gy for the 80’s but explo­sive diar­rhea might actu­al­ly be a bet­ter anal­o­gy for what we’ve expe­ri­enced over the last decade. No one likes to get pissed on but at least it’s some­what ster­ile.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 2, 2012, 3:05 pm
  6. Clear­ly, it’s because they did 93% of the addi­tion­al work:

    Top 1% Got 93% of Income Growth as Rich-Poor Gap Widened
    By Peter Robi­son — Oct 2, 2012 9:01 AM CT

    Since 2009, Ani­ta Reyes’ wages have been as frozen as Lake Min­neton­ka in Jan­u­ary.

    While the U.S. econ­o­my was recov­er­ing from the Great Reces­sion, Reyes, 52, a casi­no deal­er from Min­neapo­lis, was din­ing on $1.67 cans of soup and search­ing for a way to keep her house, which was fore­closed on last Octo­ber.

    “I went back­wards,” Reyes said. “Two years ago, three years ago, I didn’t know I’d be look­ing at being home­less.”

    Stephen Hemsley’s salary has been frozen too. His income hasn’t.

    The chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of Min­neton­ka, Min­neso­ta-based health insur­er Unit­ed­Health Group Inc. (UNH) earned $1.3 mil­lion in salary every year since 2007. Still, as the eco­nom­ic recov­ery took hold from 2009 to 2011, Hem­s­ley, 60, exer­cised stock options worth more than $170 mil­lion and made at least $51 mil­lion from share sales, mak­ing him the object of an “Occu­py Lake Min­neton­ka” protest on the ice out­side his lake­side home each win­ter.

    The diver­gent for­tunes of Reyes and Hem­s­ley show that the U.S. has gone through two recov­er­ies. The 1.2 mil­lion house­holds whose incomes put them in the top 1 per­cent of the U.S. saw their earn­ings increase 5.5 per­cent last year, accord­ing to esti­mates released last month by the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau. Earn­ings fell 1.7 per­cent for the 96 mil­lion house­holds in the bot­tom 80 per­cent — those that made less than $101,583.

    The recov­ery that offi­cial­ly began in mid-2009 hasn’t arrived in most Amer­i­cans’ pay­checks. In 2010, the top 1 per­cent of U.S. fam­i­lies cap­tured as much as 93 per­cent of the nation’s income growth, accord­ing to a March paper by Emmanuel Saez, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley econ­o­mist who stud­ied Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice data.

    Polit­i­cal Bat­tle­ground

    The earn­ings gap between rich and poor Amer­i­cans was the widest in more than four decades in 2011, Cen­sus data show, sur­pass­ing income inequal­i­ty pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed in Ugan­da and Kaza­khstan. The notion that each gen­er­a­tion does bet­ter than the last — one aspect of the Amer­i­can Dream — has been chal­lenged by evi­dence that aver­age fam­i­ly incomes fell last decade for the first time since World War II.

    ...

    The head of Unit­ed­Health made $221 mil­lion in stocks and options? If that seems like far too much for a health insur­ance CEO to be mak­ing you prob­a­bly don’t want to read this oth­er arti­cle about Hem­s­ley(he appar­ent­ly had $744 mil­lion in unex­er­cised stock options as of 2009). Or this arti­cle (he had over $1 bil­lion in options as of 2011). So what on earth could it pos­si­bly be Mr. Hem­s­ley con­tributes to the over­all orga­niz­ing? He’s the CEO, so it’s clear­ly some sort of “deci­sion mak­ing” that he’s get­ting paid for, but what are those extreme­ly expen­sive deci­sions? Is the guy sit­ting on every sin­gle death pan­el at Unit­ed­Health? It would be real­ly inter­est­ing to see what it is that the oli­garchs actu­al­ly do every­day. That ques­tion could be a fun meme.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 2, 2012, 3:05 pm
  7. Arg *&%^@#)_*( .... You haven’t stud­ied the doc­trine, Pter. The oli­garchs CREATE new stuff every day and new WEALTH which enrich­es human exis­tence right down to the peo­ple earn­ing 27 cents an hour to cut up ship hulls for scrap in Bangladesh. They are obsessed with CREATING WEALTH FOR THE GOOD OF US ALL. They do this direct­ly, not rely­ing on hired exper­tise, because they are supe­ri­or human beans and gen­er­al­ly nice guys. Just look at all the tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions and cures for dis­ease that Ben Bernanke or Jamie Dimon have pro­duced. I think I’ve made my case.
    I was con­fused for a while over why such obvi­ous­ly supe­ri­or beings would need inher­it­ed wealth as a jump start in life, since they claim that they would rise to the top even if start­ing with noth­ing. I think the only solu­tion is to end all inher­it­ed wealth, then watch them shine. That will shut those bleed­ing heart lib­er­als up for good. God cre­at­ed the uni­verse so a select few could bathe in glo­ry. If a few bil­lion peo­ple have to live mis­er­ably for that to hap­pen, well, that’s FREEDOM.

    Posted by Dwight | October 2, 2012, 9:57 pm
  8. @Dwight: LOL. Now, now...I think it should be clear to all of us that those born with a sil­ver spoon in their mouth paid for that spoon with the pro­ceeds from the paper routes they had in the womb(one more rea­son child labor laws are tru­ly stu­pid). Besides, I’m pret­ty sure heav­en does­n’t have access to off­shore tax-haven accounts, so it’s not like these folks are in any sort of spir­i­tu­al trou­ble. All they want to do is make life bet­ter for their kids and the rest of us pos­si­bly up to 53% of us. Life is hard enough for our bet­ters with­out the ungrate­ful rab­ble going around mak­ing con­tro­ver­sial state­ments:

    Bloomberg
    JPMor­gan Shouldn’t Cut Dimon’s Pay Over Loss, Har­ri­son Says
    By Dawn Kopec­ki and Erik Schatzk­er — Oct 4, 2012 10:27 AM CT

    JPMor­gan Chase & Co. (JPM) shouldn’t cut Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Jamie Dimon’s pay over the bank’s $5.8 bil­lion loss in its chief invest­ment office, for­mer CEO William Har­ri­son said.

    “I wouldn’t penal­ize him,” Har­ri­son, 69, said today in an inter­view on Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion with Stephanie Ruh­le and Erik Schatzk­er. “That might be a con­tro­ver­sial state­ment. I think Jamie is doing a great job.”

    ...

    Dimon, 56, received $23 mil­lion in pay and bonus­es in 2011, mak­ing him the high­est-paid CEO of a major U.S. bank.

    ...

    It’s good to see some­one final­ly com­ing to the defense of the defens­less. It’s not like Jamie had any­thing to do with that $5.8 bil­lion loss.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 4, 2012, 9:15 pm
  9. It looks like Shel­don is plan­ning to dou­ble down in 2016:

    Shel­don Adel­son Vows To ‘Dou­ble’ Dona­tions To GOP After Huge 2012 Elec­tion Fail­ure

    The Huff­in­g­ton Post | By Nick Wing
    Post­ed: 12/05/2012 10:14 am EST Updat­ed: 12/05/2012 3:56 pm EST

    Casi­no mogul Shel­don Adel­son spent near­ly $150 mil­lion on Repub­li­cans dur­ing the 2012 elec­tions, almost entire­ly in sup­port of can­di­dates who did not win. But his cold streak has­n’t left him at all dis­cour­aged, he told the Wall Street Jour­nal in a recent inter­view.

    “I hap­pen to be in a unique busi­ness where win­ning and los­ing is the basis of the entire busi­ness,” Adel­son told the Jour­nal. “So I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand com­ing up.”

    In fact, Adel­son, whose per­son­al wealth is esti­mat­ed at $20.5 bil­lion, says he’s ready to lit­er­al­ly dou­ble down on the GOP when those new cards are dealt.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 10, 2012, 3:36 pm
  10. Well sur­prise sur­prise, it appears that small nations that don’t kiss the ass­es of inter­na­tion­al preda­to­ry bankers can do just fine on their own:

    Forbes
    Ice­land’s Sta­bi­lized Econ­o­my Is A Sur­pris­ing Suc­cess Sto­ry
    Tracey Green­stein, Con­trib­u­tor
    2/20/2013 @ 12:06PM

    You may have heard about Iceland’s top­pling econ­o­my back in 2008. As one of the hard­est hit coun­tries at the time, Iceland’s heav­i­ly crit­i­cized method to escape ver­i­ta­ble eco­nom­ic demise actu­al­ly did the trick.

    Faced with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of finan­cial fail­ure, Ice­land had to think on its feet. Instead of bail­ing out banks USA-style, the coun­try for­gave mort­gage debt for the pop­u­la­tion – and com­plete­ly start­ed over from square one.

    A coun­try with a small pop­u­la­tion of rough­ly 320,000 cit­i­zens, Iceland‘s entire bank­ing struc­ture “sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly failed” in the ear­ly days of the 2008 reces­sion. Despite the fact that Ice­land is still on the road to recov­ery, the coun­try ranks high as a polit­i­cal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly sta­ble nation. Their suc­cess over the last few years has been large­ly under-report­ed, and the sto­ry behind it is quite fas­ci­nat­ing.

    A Lit­tle Bit of Moral­i­ty Goes A Long Way

    Let’s face it: Ice­landers are tough. They are entire­ly iso­lat­ed, liv­ing in frozen tun­dra, per­pet­u­al­ly endur­ing less-than-opti­mal weath­er pat­terns. While they are sur­round­ed by epic nat­ur­al beau­ty, these peo­ple aren’t spoiled; they’re tena­cious.

    Instead of allow­ing the crim­i­nals respon­si­ble for bank fraud to run free as the years passed by, Ice­land thought it might be wise to actu­al­ly indict bankers who com­mit­ted seri­ous finan­cial crimes that con­tributed to the col­lapse. By pay­ing off loans for con­sumers, for­giv­ing home­own­er debt (up to 110% of the prop­er­ty val­ue), and throw­ing the offend­ers in prison, Ice­land was able to bounce back. Now, their econ­o­my is “recov­ered” and is grow­ing faster than both the US and Euro­pean economies.

    When Iceland’s Pres­i­dent Ola­fur Rag­nar Grimm­son was asked whether or not oth­er coun­tries – Europe in par­tic­u­lar – would suc­ceed with Iceland’s “let the banks fail” pol­i­cy, he stat­ed the fol­low­ing:

    Why are the banks con­sid­ered to be the holy church­es of the mod­ern econ­o­my? Why are pri­vate banks not like air­lines and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion com­pa­nies and allowed to go bank­rupt if they have been run in an irre­spon­si­ble way? The the­o­ry that you have to bail-out banks is a the­o­ry that you allow bankers enjoy for their own prof­it, their suc­cess, and then let ordi­nary peo­ple bear their fail­ure through tax­es and aus­ter­i­ty. ?Peo­ple in enlight­ened democ­ra­cies are not going to accept that in the long run.”

    Grimmson’s “famous” reply to the con­tro­ver­sial ques­tion, “What is the rea­son for Iceland’s recov­ery?” is most remark­able.

    We were wise enough not to fol­low the tra­di­tion­al pre­vail­ing ortho­dox­ies of the West­ern finan­cial world in the last 30 years. We intro­duced cur­ren­cy con­trols, we let the banks fail, we pro­vid­ed sup­port for the poor, and we didn’t intro­duce aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures like you’re see­ing in Europe.”

    ...

    How­ev­er unortho­dox in its method, Iceland’s “let it fail” pol­i­cy result­ed in jubi­la­tion. We can’t seek per­fec­tion in the years after a glob­al finan­cial col­lapse, but we can acknowl­edge nations who per­se­vered with integri­ty.

    Let’s hope larg­er nations learn Ice­land’s unortho­dox lessons because big banks have big appetites and the size of today’s banks are, shall we say, unortho­dox:

    Bloomberg
    U.S. Banks Big­ger Than GDP as Account­ing Rift Masks Risk
    By Yal­man Onaran — Feb 19, 2013 6:01 PM CT

    Warn­ing: Banks in the U.S. are big­ger than they appear.

    That label, like a sim­i­lar one on auto­mo­bile side-view mir­rors, might be required of the four largest U.S. lenders if Thomas Hoenig, vice chair­man of the Fed­er­al Deposit Insur­ance Corp., has his way. Apply­ing stricter account­ing stan­dards for deriv­a­tives and off-bal­ance-sheet assets would make the banks twice as big as they say they are — or about the size of the U.S. econ­o­my — accord­ing to data com­piled by Bloomberg.

    “Deriv­a­tives, like loans, car­ry risk,” Hoenig said in an inter­view. “To rec­og­nize those bets on the bal­ance sheet would give a bet­ter pic­ture of the risk expo­sures that are there.”

    U.S. account­ing rules allow banks to record a small­er por­tion of their deriv­a­tives than Euro­pean peers and keep most mort­gage-linked bonds off their books. That can under­es­ti­mate the risks firms face and affect how much cap­i­tal they need.

    Using inter­na­tion­al stan­dards for deriv­a­tives and con­sol­i­dat­ing mort­gage secu­ri­ti­za­tions, JPMor­gan Chase & Co., Bank of Amer­i­ca Corp. and Wells Far­go & Co. would dou­ble in assets, while Cit­i­group Inc. would jump 60 per­cent, third- quar­ter data show. JPMor­gan would swell to $4.5 tril­lion from $2.3 tril­lion, leapfrog­ging Lon­don-based HSBC Hold­ings Plc and Deutsche Bank AG, each with about $2.7 tril­lion.

    World’s Largest

    JPMor­gan, Bank of Amer­i­ca and Cit­i­group would become the world’s three largest banks and Wells Far­go the sixth-biggest. Their com­bined assets of $14.7 tril­lion would equal 93 per­cent of U.S. gross domes­tic prod­uct last year, the data show. Total assets of the country’s bank­ing sys­tem would be 170 per­cent of eco­nom­ic out­put, still low­er than 326 per­cent for Ger­many.

    U.S. account­ing rules for net­ting deriv­a­tives allow banks to erase about $4 tril­lion in assets, the data show. The lenders also can remove from their books most mort­gages they pack­age into secu­ri­ties, trim­ming an addi­tion­al $3 tril­lion.

    Off-bal­ance-sheet assets and deriv­a­tives were at the root of the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis. Mort­gage secu­ri­ti­za­tions kept off the books came back to haunt banks forced to repur­chase home loans sold to spe­cial invest­ment vehi­cles. The gov­ern­ment had to res­cue Amer­i­can Inter­na­tion­al Group Inc. with a bailout that bal­looned to $182 bil­lion after the insur­er couldn’t pay banks on deriv­a­tives tied to those bonds.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 20, 2013, 10:10 am
  11. “Too big to jail” is offi­cial: Accord­ing to Eric Hold­er, some banks have lit­er­al­ly become so big that they can’t be pros­e­cut­ed with­out dam­ag­ing the econ­o­my:

    The Hill
    Hold­er: Big banks’ size com­pli­cates pros­e­cu­tion efforts
    By Peter Schroed­er — 03/06/13 02:00 PM ET

    Attor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er sug­gest­ed Wednes­day that some finan­cial insti­tu­tions have become too large and are escap­ing full-fledged pros­e­cu­tion as a result.

    Tes­ti­fy­ing before the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, Hold­er told law­mak­ers that he is con­cerned that some insti­tu­tions have become so mas­sive and influ­en­tial that bring­ing crim­i­nal charges against them could imper­il the finan­cial sys­tem and the broad­er econ­o­my. His remarks come as a grow­ing num­ber of law­mak­ers have sug­gest­ed that big banks are, effec­tive­ly, “too big to jail.”

    I am con­cerned that the size of some of these insti­tu­tions becomes so large that it does become dif­fi­cult for us to pros­e­cute them when we are hit with indi­ca­tions that if you do pros­e­cute, if you do bring a crim­i­nal charge, it will have a neg­a­tive impact on the nation­al econ­o­my, per­haps even the world econ­o­my,” he said. “And I think that is a func­tion of the fact that some of these insti­tu­tions have become too large.”

    He sug­gest­ed that pri­or attempts to bring enforce­ment against banks may have been sti­fled by their out­size influ­ence, say­ing it has an “inhibit­ing influ­ence ... on our abil­i­ty to bring res­o­lu­tions that I think would be more appro­pri­ate.”

    ...

    “The con­cern that you have raised is one that I, frankly, share,” he said, adding that ulti­mate­ly the best deter­rent would be if they could bring charges against indi­vid­u­als instead of com­pa­nies.

    ...

    Now we get to look for­ward to all the “too big to break up” argu­ments. It’s progress!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 8, 2013, 12:04 am
  12. Whoohoo! The US wealth gap between the top 1% and every­one else just hit a new record. That’s a good thing, right? Now we just have to fig­ure out how to incen­tivize that lazy 99% to think and behave more like Amer­i­ca’s CEOs. Then every­one could share in the pros­per­i­ty!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 11, 2013, 12:15 pm
  13. @Pterrafractyl: Absolute­ly no sur­pris­es here. We could take a les­son or two from Reykjavik....actually, MUCH more than that, IMO. =)

    Posted by Steven L. | September 11, 2013, 4:48 pm
  14. @Steven L.: Paul Krug­man has post today that’s a reminder that even the ‘top 1 per­cent’ has its wealth wild­ly skewed towards the top 0.01 per­cent:

    The Con­science of a Lib­er­al
    Sep­tem­ber 12, 2013, 10:43 am
    Good Times at the Top
    Paul Krug­man

    Inequal­i­ty wonks wait eager­ly for the lat­est update of the Piket­ty-Saez data, which esti­mate con­cen­tra­tion of income at the top using income tax returns. The lat­est edi­tion does not dis­ap­point: it shows, as one might expect but need­ed con­firmed, that the very rich have recov­ered just fine from the Great Reces­sion, even as the great major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans con­tin­ue to strug­gle. In fact, the super-elite — the top 0.01 per­cent — actu­al­ly had high­er incomes in 2012 than they did at the height of the bub­ble.

    The new data also give an oppor­tu­ni­ty to empha­size a key fact that all too many dis­cus­sions of inequal­i­ty miss: we’re not talk­ing about the rise of a broad class of high­ly edu­cat­ed work­ers, we’re talk­ing about a tiny elite. The income share of the top 10 per­cent has risen to a record; but you’re com­plete­ly miss­ing the pic­ture if you think of the top 10 per­cent as a homo­ge­neous group. Here’s the actu­al gains since the big change in inequal­i­ty start­ed to hap­pen:
    [see graph]
    Of the gains made by the top 10 per­cent, almost none went to the 90–95 group; in fact, the great bulk went to the top 1 per­cent. The bulk of the gains of the top 1, in turn, went to the top 0.1; and the bulk of those gains went to the top 0.01.

    We real­ly are talk­ing about the flour­ish­ing of a tiny elite.

    These are the kinds of fun-facts that should prompt the folks at the bot­tom of the top 1 per­cent to ask them­selves how long an econ­o­my with a shrink­ing mid­dle class can func­tion like a pyra­mid scheme. They should also ask them­selves what the econ­o­my might start look­ing like when the base of the pyra­mid begins to crum­ble.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 12, 2013, 12:36 pm
  15. The best part of Ass­hole Charm Offen­sives is that they usu­al­ly just end up being offen­sive:

    Bloomberg
    Munger Says ‘Thank God’ U.S. Opt­ed for Bailouts Over Hand­outs
    By Andrew Frye — Sep 20, 2010 10:11 AM CT

    Charles Munger, the bil­lion­aire vice chair­man of Berk­shire Hath­away Inc., defend­ed the U.S. finan­cial-com­pa­ny res­cues of 2008 and told stu­dents that peo­ple in eco­nom­ic dis­tress should “suck it in and cope.”

    “You should thank God” for bank bailouts, Munger said in a dis­cus­sion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan on Sept. 14, accord­ing to a video post­ed on the Inter­net. “Now, if you talk about bailouts for every­body else, there comes a place where if you just start bail­ing out all the indi­vid­u­als instead of telling them to adapt, the cul­ture dies.”

    Bank res­cues allowed the U.S. to avoid what could have been an “awful” down­turn and will help the coun­try as it deals with the hous­ing slump, Munger, 86, said. He used the exam­ple of post-World War I Ger­many to explain how the bailouts under Pres­i­dents George W. Bush and Barack Oba­ma were “absolute­ly required to save your civ­i­liza­tion.”

    “Hit the econ­o­my with enough mis­ery and enough dis­rup­tion, destroy the cur­ren­cy, and God knows what hap­pens,” Munger said. “So I think when you have trou­bles like that you shouldn’t be bitch­ing about a lit­tle bailout. You should have been think­ing it should have been big­ger.”

    Ger­many was unable to sta­bi­lize its finan­cial sys­tem in the 1920s, and, Munger said, “We end­ed up with Adolf Hitler.”

    Tax­pay­er funds inject­ed into banks helped insu­late bond investors from loss­es and cush­ioned stock declines for equi­ty hold­ers. U.S. pro­grams designed to ease the bur­den for dis­tressed mort­gage hold­ers didn’t pre­vent fore­clo­sures from ris­ing to a record. One out of every 381 house­holds received a fore­clo­sure fil­ing in August, accord­ing to Real­ty­Trac Inc.

    Angry Pub­lic

    “Char­lie Munger is mis­rep­re­sent­ing his­to­ry, and that’s why the pub­lic is angry at Wall Street,” said Joshua Ros­ner, an ana­lyst at research firm Gra­ham Fish­er & Co. “We could have wiped out the equi­ty hold­ers before we wiped out the tax­pay­er.”

    Berk­shire had advanced 26 per­cent on the New York Stock Exchange this year as of Sept. 17 and ben­e­fit­ed from a recov­ery in earn­ings at some of its main bank hold­ings. It is the largest share­hold­er of Wells Far­go & Co., the biggest U.S. home lender, with a stake val­ued at more than $8 bil­lion. Berk­shire also owns $5 bil­lion of Gold­man Sachs Group Inc. pre­ferred stock.

    Munger won a cult fol­low­ing among investors for his eco­nom­ic insights and a direct man­ner of deliv­er­ing his views. “He’s iras­ci­ble, bril­liant and doesn’t suf­fer fools glad­ly,” said Berk­shire investor Jeff Matthews of Ram Part­ners LP.

    Munger is wel­comed by crowds of tens of thou­sands each year when he takes the stage with Berk­shire Chair­man War­ren Buf­fett, his long­time.

    ...

    ‘A Bet­ter Place’

    “I believe Cost­co does more for civ­i­liza­tion than the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion,” Munger said. “I think it’s a bet­ter place. You get a bunch of very intel­li­gent peo­ple sit­ting around try­ing to do good, I imme­di­ate­ly get kind of sus­pi­cious and squirm in my seat.”

    Char­i­ta­ble dona­tions by Munger have aid­ed Cal­i­for­nia insti­tu­tions includ­ing Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, the Har­vard-West­lake School and the Hunt­ing­ton Library. He is chair­man of Good Samar­i­tan Hos­pi­tal of Los Ange­les and gave $3 mil­lion to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan’s law school to improve light­ing.

    ...

    These kinds of com­ments might pro­voke an angry response, but, you know, don’t get car­ried away.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 26, 2013, 8:23 am
  16. Here’s a Krug­man post that gives a time­ly reminder that know­ing what’s good for your own busi­ness and know­ing what’s “good for busi­ness” are often two very dif­fer­ent things:

    Sep­tem­ber 29, 2013, 5:03 pm
    The Con­science of a Lib­er­al
    Fools and Fix­ers
    Paul Krugu­man

    Lydia DePil­lis has an inter­est­ing piece inter­view­ing Paul Steb­bins — a CEO who was very involved with Fix the Debt — in which Steb­bins acknowl­edges that busi­ness is part of the prob­lem in Wash­ing­ton, and pro­ceeds to illus­trate, unin­ten­tion­al­ly, just why that is. You see, if he’s any indi­ca­tion, big busi­ness is com­plete­ly clue­less about both the eco­nom­ics and the pol­i­tics of the sit­u­a­tion.

    In the world accord­ing to Steb­bins, debt and deficits are at the heart of America’s eco­nom­ic prob­lem. He doesn’t even make the case — he just claims that it’s obvi­ous accord­ing to the facts. No notion what­so­ev­er that we might have slow growth because we’re reduc­ing the deficit too fast; no acknowl­edg­ment that the empir­i­cal case for debt pan­ic has col­lapsed. You get the sense that he’s com­plete­ly unaware of the actu­al debates that have tak­en place about eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, prob­a­bly unaware of how much the actu­al deficit and fore­casts of future debt have changed. So he’s angry at Wash­ing­ton for not fac­ing up to a fake prob­lem.

    And on the polit­i­cal side, it’s all false equiv­a­lence. The AARP, fight­ing against cuts to ben­e­fits, is just like Repub­li­cans threat­en­ing to plunge us into debt cri­sis if Oba­ma doesn’t kill health reform. The Club for Growth, threat­en­ing any Repub­li­can who steps out of line, is just like … me, mak­ing fun of groups like Fix the Debt.

    In short, this par­tic­u­lar CEO comes across as com­plete­ly out of touch with the real­i­ty of our eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. And then he won­ders why politi­cians won’t lis­ten to peo­ple like him.

    The thing is, I sus­pect that he’s typ­i­cal. Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca is led by men who may be very good at their jobs (or not, in some cas­es), but have no grasp at all of the real issues fac­ing Amer­i­ca as a whole — the spe­cial prob­lems cre­at­ed by an econ­o­my stuck in a liq­uid­i­ty trap, the paral­y­sis caused by the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the GOP. They can throw lots of mon­ey at Wash­ing­ton, and it’s effec­tive at tilt­ing poli­cies on micro­eco­nom­ic issues their way. But they have no influ­ence on the big deci­sions, because they don’t even under­stand what those big deci­sions are.

    Won­der­ful, a pub­lic epiphany from one of the folks at Fix the Debt about how Wall Street isn’t doing its part to come up with jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for empir­i­cal­ly dubi­ous aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies. Yep, it turns out all those decades spent fret­ting over mutu­al­ly assured nuclear destruc­tion were off tar­get. The real long-term threat to the US? Unre­lent­ing irra­tional con­cern-trolling by the pow­er­ful and influ­en­tial. Do not under­es­ti­mate the pow­er of the Dark Side.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 30, 2013, 6:19 pm
  17. As we’ve learned in recent years, the EU’s lead­er­ship has nev­er real­ly viewed the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of aus­ter­i­ty — like the under­min­ing of the socioe­co­nom­ic poten­tial for an entire gen­er­a­tion and the gut­ting of the mid­dle-class — as rea­sons to end such poli­cies or nev­er start them in the first place. Aus­ter­i­ty’s fail­ures, after all, are a fea­ture. Maybe we need to try some new argu­ments:

    Bil­lion­aire wealth dou­bles since finan­cial cri­sis
    Bil­lion­aire wealth more than dou­bled since the finan­cial cri­sis, with more than 2000 indi­vid­u­als now hold­ing $6.5 tril­lion, up from $3.1 tril­lion in 2009.
    Post­ed By Son­ali Basak | Nov. 12, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    (UPI) — The finan­cial cri­sis did­n’t put a strain on every­one. The num­ber of bil­lion­aires in the world has grown to more than 2,000 since 2009, and their aggre­gate net worth has more than dou­bled, reach­ing a record high.

    The Wealth X and UBS Bil­lion­aire cen­sus report revealed a com­bined wealth of the world’s bil­lion­aires to be $6.5 tril­lion, up from $3.1 tril­lion in 2009.

    ...

    The five coun­tries with the most bil­lion­aires are the U.S., Chi­na, Ger­many, the U.K. and Rus­sia. The cities with the most bil­lion­aires are New York, Hong Kong, Moscow and Lon­don.

    Asi­a’s wealth has grown faster than any oth­er region. Chi­na has added the most bil­lion­aires to the list this year, with 18 new bil­lion­aires. Mean­while, Europe’s growth of bil­lion­aires has slowed, and was the only region to see a decline. In the next five years, Asia is expect­ed to out­grow the Unit­ed States and Europe in the num­ber of ultra high net worth indi­vid­u­als.

    How­ev­er, at cer­tain times of the year the world’s bil­lion­aires are like­ly to migrate to the same cities, such as for the Davos for the World Eco­nom­ic Forum, then to the Rus­sia Win­ter Olympics and then to the Clin­ton Glob­al Ini­tia­tive, among a num­ber of oth­er bil­lion­aire hot spots.

    By 2020, the report esti­mat­ed the num­ber of bil­lion­aires will grow to near­ly 4,000 bil­lion­aires world­wide.

    Uh oh! Europe was the only region of the world to lose bil­lion­aires. Maybe aus­ter­i­ty isn’t ALL fun and games. Sure, a lot of good can come from it, like ris­ing income-inequal­i­ty and greater dis­at­i­fac­tion with life, but are those gains real­ly worth the cost of few­er bil­lion­aires? It’s time for Europe’s bil­lion­aires to stop think­ing with their heads and start think­ing with their hearts.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 13, 2013, 11:22 am
  18. While unin­ten­tion­al, Wal­mart moved one step clos­er to acknowl­edg­ing that liv­ing on Wal­mart’s wages is an “extreme hard­ship”:

    TPM Livewire
    Ohio Wal­mart Crit­i­cized For Hold­ing Food Dri­ve For Own Employ­ees
    Caitlin Mac­Neal – Novem­ber 18, 2013, 12:56 PM EST

    A Can­ton, Ohio Wal­mart store is under fire for orga­niz­ing a food dri­ve meant to ben­e­fit its own employ­ees, the Cleve­land Plain Deal­er report­ed on Mon­day.

    The store set up bins in an employ­ee-only sec­tion of the store encour­ag­ing dona­tions of food so that some of the store’s need­i­er work­ers could enjoy a Thanks­giv­ing meal, accord­ing to pho­tos sent to advo­ca­cy group Orga­ni­za­tion Unit­ed for Respect at Wal­mart.

    Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and store work­ers were upset by the food dri­ve.

    “That Wal­mart would have the audac­i­ty to ask low-wage work­ers to donate food to oth­er low-wage work­ers — to me, it is a moral out­rage,” Nor­ma Mills, a Can­ton res­i­dent, told the Plain Deal­er.

    One Wal­mart employ­ee described the food dri­ve at “demor­al­iz­ing,” not­ing that Wal­mart is not ful­ly address­ing how lit­tle some peo­ple make work­ing for the com­pa­ny.

    Vanes­sa Fer­reira, an orga­niz­er for OUR Wal­mart, a group that orga­nized strikes in Cincin­nati and Day­ton, Ohio on Mon­day, was angered by the food dri­ve.

    “Why would a com­pa­ny do that?” she told the Cleve­land Plain Deal­er. “The com­pa­ny needs to stand up and give them their 40 hours and a liv­ing wage, so they don’t have to wor­ry about whether they can afford Thanks­giv­ing.”

    Kory Lund­berg, a Wal­mart spokesman, defend­ed the food dri­ve and said it was an exam­ple of cowork­ers look­ing out for each oth­er.

    “It is for asso­ciates who have had some hard­ships come up,” he told the Plain Deal­er. “This is part of the com­pa­ny’s cul­ture to ral­ly around asso­ciates and take care of them when they face extreme hard­ships.”

    Wal­mart work­ers have been stag­ing strikes across the coun­try since Black Fri­day 2012, protest­ing the com­pa­ny’s low wages and focus on employ­ing part-time work­ers.

    If Wal­mart real­ly cared about its McRe­sources employ­ees it would do the right thing and just give them a raise set up a help-line.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 18, 2013, 10:44 am
  19. Sup­ply-side Jesus has a mes­sage about help­ing the home­less this Hol­i­day sea­son: Don’t. If the home­less want food and shel­ter they should get a job suck it in and cope.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 21, 2013, 12:59 pm
  20. GOP spin-meis­ter Frank Luntz appears to be hav­ing an exis­ten­tial cri­sis of sorts: He still believes we should elim­i­nate social pro­grams and free our­selves from the shack­les of not being entire­ly shack­led to the mar­ket­place, but he’s becom­ing increas­ing­ly con­cerned that the pub­lic has become too spoiled and enti­tled to fol­low the wis­dom of their bil­lion­aire bet­ters:

    The Atlantic
    The Agony of Frank Luntz
    What does it mean when Amer­i­ca’s top polit­i­cal word­smith los­es faith in our abil­i­ty to be per­suad­ed?
    Mol­ly Ball Jan 6 2014, 6:00 AM ET

    Frank Luntz does not want the buf­fet. We are on the top floor of the Capi­tol Hill Club, the mem­bers-only Repub­li­can hang­out a block from the Capi­tol, where a meaty smell is ema­nat­ing from steam trays. Today’s main course is ham, and Luntz shakes his head.

    There’s also fish, the host offers—mahi mahi. No. “I’m 0 for 2,” Luntz says mourn­ful­ly.

    “Roast chick­en,” the host says, but it’s too late; he’s lost him. “Bor­ing,” Luntz says, as we head for the ele­va­tor to the full-ser­vice din­ing room in the base­ment.

    Amer­i­ca’s best-known pub­lic-opin­ion guru has­n’t sud­den­ly gone veg­an. Luntz—the tub­by, rum­pled guy who runs the focus groups on Fox News after pres­i­den­tial debates, the polit­i­cal con­sul­tant and TV fix­ture whose word has been law in Repub­li­can cir­cles since he helped write the 1994 Con­tract With America—has always been a hard man to please. But some­thing is dif­fer­ent now, he tells me. Some­thing is wrong. Some­thing in his psy­che has bro­ken, and he does not know if he can recov­er.

    “I’ve had a headache for six days now, and it does­n’t go away,” he tells me as we take our seats at a table down­stairs. “I don’t sleep for more than two or three hours at a time. I’m prob­a­bly less healthy now than I have ever been in my life.” He’s not sure what to do. He’s still going through the motions—giving speech­es, going on tele­vi­sion, con­duct­ing focus groups, and advis­ing com­pa­nies and politi­cians on how best to con­vey their mes­sage.

    But beneath the sur­face, he says, is a roil­ing tur­moil that threat­ens to con­sume him. He orders a chick­en pot pie, then berates him­self for not choos­ing some­thing health­i­er. In recent months, he tells me, he has often con­tem­plat­ed quit­ting every­thing; he has spent long weeks alone, unable to sort out his thoughts. Frank Luntz, the mas­ter polit­i­cal manip­u­la­tor, a man who has always evinced a cheery cer­tain­ty about who’s right and who’s win­ning and how it all works, is a mess.

    And yet, over the hour and a half I spend talk­ing with him—the first time he has spo­ken pub­licly about his cur­rent state of mind—it’s hard to grasp what the cri­sis is about. Luntz has­n’t renounced his con­ser­v­a­tive world­view. His belief in unfet­tered cap­i­tal­ism and indi­vid­ual self-reliance appears stronger than ever. He has­n’t become dis­il­lu­sioned with his very prof­itable career or his nomadic, soli­tary lifestyle. His complaints—that Amer­i­ca is too divid­ed, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma too par­ti­san, and the coun­try in the grip of an enti­tle­ment men­tal­i­ty that is out of control—seem pret­ty run-of-the-mill. But his anguish is too deeply felt not to be real. Frank Luntz is hav­ing some kind of cri­sis. I just can’t quite get my head around it.

    ...

    It was what Luntz heard from the Amer­i­can peo­ple that scared him. They were con­tentious and argu­men­ta­tive. They did­n’t lis­ten to each oth­er as they once had. They weren’t inter­est­ed in hear­ing oth­er points of view. They were divid­ed one against the oth­er, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opin­ions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re pick­ing up their leads from here in Wash­ing­ton.” Haven’t polit­i­cal dis­agree­ments always been con­tentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.”

    Luntz knew that he, a mak­er of polit­i­cal mes­sages and attacks and adver­tise­ments, had helped cre­ate this neg­a­tiv­i­ty, and it haunt­ed him. But it was Oba­ma he prin­ci­pal­ly blamed. The peo­ple in his focus groups, he per­ceived, had absorbed the pres­i­den­t’s mes­sage of class divi­sions, haves and have-nots, of redis­tri­b­u­tion. It was a mes­sage Luntz believed to be pro­found­ly wrong, but one so pow­er­ful he had no slo­gans, no argu­ments with which to beat it back. In reelect­ing Oba­ma, the peo­ple had spo­ken. And the peo­ple, he believed, were wrong. Hav­ing spent his career telling politi­cians what the peo­ple want­ed to hear, Luntz now believed the peo­ple had been cor­rupt­ed and were beyond sav­ing. Oba­ma had ruined the elec­torate, set them at each oth­er’s throats, and there was no way to turn back.

    Why not? I ask. Isn’t find­ing the right words to per­suade peo­ple what you do? “I’m not good enough,” Luntz says. “And I hate that. I have come to the extent of my capa­bil­i­ties. And this is not false mod­esty. I think I’m pret­ty good. But not good enough.” The old Frank Luntz was sure he could invent slo­gans to sell the right­eous con­ser­v­a­tive path of per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty and free mar­kets to any­one. The new Frank Luntz fears that is no longer the case, and it’s dri­ving him crazy.

    ...

    Luntz’s work has always been pred­i­cat­ed on a sort of populism—the idea that politi­cians must fig­ure out what vot­ers want to hear, and speak to them in lan­guage that com­ports with it. He proud­ly claims that his famous catch­phras­es, like brand­ing health­care reform a “gov­ern­ment takeover” in 2010, are not his coinages but the organ­ic prod­uct of his focus groups. The disheveled appear­ance, the sar­don­ic wit, all add up to a sort of tilt­ing against the estab­lish­ment, an insis­tence that it lis­ten to the Real Peo­ple.

    But what if the Real Peo­ple are wrong? That is the pos­si­bil­i­ty Luntz now grap­ples with. What if the things peo­ple want to hear from their lead­ers are ideas that would lead the coun­try down a dan­ger­ous road?

    “You should not expect a hand­out,” he tells me. “You should not even expect a safe­ty net. When my house burns down, I should not go to the gov­ern­ment to rebuild it. I should have the sav­ings, and if I don’t, my neigh­bors should pitch in for me, because I would do that for them.” The enti­tle­ment he now hears from the focus groups he con­venes amounts, in his view, to a per­ma­nent poi­son­ing of the electorate—one that can­not be undone. “We have now cre­at­ed a sense of depen­den­cy and a sense of enti­tle­ment that is so great that you had, on the day that he was elect­ed, women think­ing that Oba­ma was going to pay their mort­gage pay­ment, and that’s why they vot­ed for him,” he says. “And that, to me, is the end of what made this coun­try so great.”

    ...

    Most of all, Luntz says, he wish­es we would stop yelling at one anoth­er. Luntz dreams of draft­ing some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for sav­ing Amer­i­ca from its elect­ed offi­cials. “The politi­cians have failed; now it’s up to the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty to stand up and be heard,” he tells me. “I want the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty to step up.” Hav­ing once thought elites need­ed to lis­ten to reg­u­lar peo­ple, he now wants the peo­ple to learn from their mon­eyed bet­ters.

    Luntz’s pop­ulism has turned on itself and become its oppo­site: fear and loathing of the mass­es. “I am grate­ful that Occu­py Wall Street turned out to be a bunch of crazy, dis­gust­ing, rude, hor­ri­ble peo­ple, because they were onto some­thing,” he says. “Lim­baugh made fun of me when I said that Occu­py Wall Street scares me. Because he did­n’t hear what I hear. He does­n’t see what I see.” The peo­ple are angry. They want more, not because we have not giv­en them enough but because we have giv­en them too much.

    ...

    Huh. It’s not clear what Frank is so con­cerned about. Maybe the “Dad­dy beats me because he loves me” approach to gov­ern­ment is los­ing its elec­toral appeal? Per­haps, but with the GOP ahead of the Democ­rats in recent con­gres­sion­al polls it could be some­thing else trou­bling Luntz.

    Is sab­o­tag­ing health­care not work­ing as expect­ed? That would indeed be dis­turb­ing, but it’s too ear­ly to say how that strag­e­gy is going work out in the upcom­ing midterm elec­tions. Frank’s angst is indeed a bit of a mys­tery.

    Still, One of the nice things about the post-Cit­i­zens Unit­ed era is that even if Luntz’s bil­lion­aire spon­sors ever get so afflict­ed with Luntz-itis that they decide to just go Galt and leave coun­try they’ll still sort of be able to bestow their wis­doms on the ungrate­ful pro­les. There is hope.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 7, 2014, 8:26 pm
  21. There are 85 peo­ple in the world that must work some very long hours:

    85 rich­est peo­ple own 46% of world’s wealth
    11:28 AM, Jan­u­ary 20, 2014

    by Kim Hjelm­gaard, USA TODAY

    Research con­duct­ed by the British char­i­ty Oxfam has con­clud­ed that the com­bined wealth of the world’s 85 rich­est peo­ple is equiv­a­lent to that owned by the bot­tom half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

    Sep­a­rate­ly, the report, titled “Work­ing for the Few,” claims that the rich­est 1% on the plan­et — more than the 85 peo­ple whose boun­ty is com­pa­ra­ble to the col­lec­tive wealth of the poor­est half — are rich to the tune of $110 tril­lion. “The top 1% have 65 times the total wealth of the bot­tom half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion,” the study says.

    “This cap­ture of oppor­tu­ni­ties by the rich at the expense of the poor and mid­dle class­es has helped cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion where sev­en out of every 10 peo­ple in the world live in coun­tries where inequal­i­ty has increased since the 1980s and 1 per­cent of the world’s fam­i­lies now own 46% of its wealth ($110 tril­lion),” Oxfam said in a state­ment announc­ing the study, pub­lished ahead of this week’s annu­al meet­ing of the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Davos, Switzer­land.

    The WEF has iden­ti­fied income inequal­i­ty as one of the great­est risks fac­ing the world in 2014.

    Oxfam’s study notes that “In many coun­tries, extreme eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty is wor­ry­ing because of the per­ni­cious impact that wealth con­cen­tra­tions can have on equal polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. When wealth cap­tures gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy­mak­ing, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detri­ment of every­one else. The con­se­quences include the ero­sion of demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nance, the pulling apart of social cohe­sion, and the van­ish­ing of equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for all. Unless bold polit­i­cal solu­tions are insti­tut­ed to curb the influ­ence of wealth on pol­i­tics, gov­ern­ments will work for the inter­ests of the rich, while eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal inequal­i­ties con­tin­ue to rise.”

    The devel­op­ment char­i­ty did not iden­ti­fy the 85 rich­est peo­ple cit­ed in its study.

    ...

    Note that it isn’t just extreme­ly high incomes by a tiny sliv­er of the pop­u­lace that’s allowed 85 peo­ple to cap­ture as much wealth as the bot­tom 50% of the pop­u­la­tion. It’s also the con­se­quence of extreme pover­ty around the globe.

    For­tu­nate­ly, this wealth gap should be clos­ing soon. In fact, in anoth­er cou­ple of decades pover­ty will almost be a thing of the past. At least, that’s the pre­dic­tion of two of the wealth­i­est peo­ple on the plan­et.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 20, 2014, 2:48 pm
  22. Anoth­er prob­lem with the con­cen­tra­tion of wealth is that it also con­cen­trates the socioe­co­nom­ic incen­tives for the extreme­ly wealthy to embrace socioe­co­nom­ic mad­ness:

    TPM Edi­tor’s blog
    The Brit­tle Grip, Part 2
    Josh Mar­shall – Jan­u­ary 25, 2014, 6:38 PM EST

    If you’ve been in the media slip­stream today you know the out­rage and mock­ery direct­ed at Tom Perkins, one of the world’s wealth­i­est and most suc­cess­ful Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, for an oped he wrote in the Wall Street Jour­nal com­par­ing the ris­ing cri­tique of income inequal­i­ty and “the 1%” to Kristall­nacht. Just so we’re all on the same page, Kristall­nacht (“the night of shat­tered glass”) was essen­tial­ly the open­ing act of Hitler’s Final Solu­tion. It took place on Novem­ber 9th and 10th, 1938. This claim man­ages simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to be so log­i­cal­ly ridicu­lous and moral­ly hideous that Perkins deserves every bit of abuse he’s already receiv­ing.

    But I think we’re miss­ing the point if we see this as the gaffe of one aging, cod­dled jerk. Because it’s only a more extreme and pre­pos­ter­ous ver­sion of beliefs that have become increas­ing­ly wide­spread in the wealth­i­est sec­tors of Amer­i­can soci­ety, espe­cial­ly since 2008 and the twin events of the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis and the elec­tion of Barack Oba­ma.

    Let me state the phe­nom­e­non as clear­ly as pos­si­ble: The extreme­ly wealthy are objec­tive­ly far wealth­i­er, far more polit­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful and find a far more indul­gent polit­i­cal class than at any time in almost a cen­tu­ry — at least. And yet at the same time they pal­pa­bly feel more iso­lat­ed, abused and pow­er­less than at any time over the same peri­od and sense some gen­uine per­il to the whole mix of priv­i­leges, pow­er and wealth they hold.

    There is a dis­con­nect there that is so mas­sive and glar­ing that it demands some socio­cul­tur­al expla­na­tion. I’ve writ­ten about this before. But I con­fess not ter­ri­bly well because I’ve found it a dif­fi­cult issue to get my arms ful­ly around and to reori­ent my focus on day to day events to the longer hori­zon. But I do think it’s one of the core polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic issues of our time and deserves real expla­na­tion.

    I first start­ed notic­ing this when I saw sev­er­al years ago that many of the wealth­i­est peo­ple in the coun­try, espe­cial­ly peo­ple in finan­cial ser­vices, not only did­n’t sup­port Oba­ma (not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing) but had a real and pal­pa­ble sense that he was out to get them. This was hard to rec­on­cile with the fact that Oba­ma, along with Pres­i­dent Bush, had pushed through a series of very unpop­u­lar laws and pro­grams and fix­es that had not only sta­bi­lized glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, saved Wall Street but saved the per­son­al for­tunes (and per­haps even the per­son­al lib­er­ty) of the peo­ple who were turn­ing so acid­ly against him. Indeed, through the crit­i­cal years of 2009, 10 and 11 he was serv­ing as what amount­ed to Wall Street’s per­son­al heat shield, absorb­ing as polit­i­cal dam­age the pub­lic revul­sion at the bailout poli­cies that had kept Wall Street whole.

    Let’s start by stip­u­lat­ing that no one expects the extreme­ly wealthy to react hap­pi­ly to mount­ing dis­cus­sion of wealth and income inequal­i­ty or left-wing dia­tribes about “the 1%.” But again, the reac­tion is extreme and exces­sive and fre­quent­ly runs into less com­i­cal ver­sions of Perkins’ screed, with weird fears of per­se­cu­tion and threat from the folks who quite tru­ly rule the roost.

    Here’s an exchange I had more recent­ly with one of the wealth­i­est per­sons in the Unit­ed States on the issue of per­cep­tions of Oba­ma among the very wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans.

    Let me start by say­ing that I am not a fan of rich peo­ple com­plain­ing they’re being mis­treat­ed... That said, all the rich peo­ple I know think that Oba­ma is try­ing to whip up anti‑1% sen­ti­ment. The irony is that Oba­ma’s poli­cies have been fine for rich peo­ple — tax­es have stayed low, almost nobody got pros­e­cut­ed com­ing out of the finan­cial melt­down, etc. But the feel­ing is real.

    So what is it about?

    I see three basic roots, though I don’t think my list is exhaus­tive.

    ...

    Put it all togeth­er and you get the cli­mate in which some­one like Perkins writes some­thing as ridicu­lous as he did. As I said up top, his Holo­caust anal­o­gy is so hyper­bol­ic and ridicu­lous that he’s get­ting dumped on by almost every­one. But we miss the point if we see this in iso­la­tion or just the rant of one out-of-touch douchebag. It is per­va­sive. The dis­con­nect between per­cep­tion and real­i­ty, among such a pow­er­ful seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, is in itself dan­ger­ous. And it’s led to what I would call a sig­nif­i­cant rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the pol­i­tics of extreme wealth. My evi­dence for this is only anec­do­tal. But it’s come up in con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had with many busi­ness reporters who cov­er these folks on a dai­ly basis.

    We take it more or less right­ly as a giv­en that peo­ple in finance will have gen­er­al­ly right-lean­ing pol­i­tics — low tax­es, tight mon­ey, lax reg­u­la­to­ry regimes. Basi­cal­ly tra­di­tion­al mon­ey Repub­li­can­ism. But over the last few years (since 2008), I think there’s been a pret­ty dra­mat­ic growth in what we’d call Tea Par­ty pol­i­tics in that set — extreme con­ser­vatism that goes beyond hands off fis­cal and reg­u­la­to­ry pol­i­cy, the kind of fever­ish mind­set in which you could write with a straight face that pro­gres­sives might be build­ing toward some sort of mass wealth con­fis­ca­tion or intern­ment or even exter­mi­na­tion for the likes of Tom Perkins.

    It’s a prob­lem. And Perkins is just get­ting our atten­tion because his self-cen­sor and/or edi­tor failed him so mis­er­ably.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 26, 2014, 2:11 pm
  23. Here’s an arti­cle that’s a reminder that the psy­cho­log­i­cal roots of socioe­co­nom­ic Calvin­ism are, like many human traits, weird and irra­tional:

    Pan­do­Dai­ly
    Pover­ty and the “Just World hypoth­e­sis”

    By Nathan Pen­sky
    On Feb­ru­ary 13, 2014

    There’s an idea that gets thrown around in tech cir­cles — notably in the high-pro­file rants of Peter Shih and Greg Gop­man – that “poor peo­ple” or “home­less peo­ple” are “lazy” or they “deserve to be poor.”

    Some­times this isn’t stat­ed out­right but rather strong­ly sug­gest­ed or implied. I’ve heard it most recent­ly in con­nec­tion to the San Fran­cis­co hous­ing debate, but it’s by no means unique to any one issue. It tends to crop up any­where wel­fare or gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion to the con­di­tions sur­round­ing pover­ty are dis­cussed. The con­cept of “socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus as just deserts” has become a favorite talk­ing point of Lib­er­tar­i­ans and “free mar­ket” enthu­si­asts, though if we’re keep­ing score this is actu­al­ly a cor­rup­tion of Lib­er­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy.

    Like a lot of wrong-head­ed ideas — wrong at cen­ter, as opposed to poor­ly rea­soned or wrong in facts — it mer­its artic­u­la­tion more than rebut­tal.

    I mean to draw atten­tion to the con­cept not through obser­va­tion about any peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar or by trot­ting out sta­tis­tics but by dis­cussing the per­cep­tion of pover­ty and the con­di­tions sur­round­ing it being intrin­sic to cer­tain bad behav­ior, as com­pared to some­thing psy­chol­o­gists have called the Just World hypoth­e­sis.

    The psy­cho­log­i­cal study of social jus­tice gained steam in the 1930s and 1940s, when researchers and psy­chol­o­gists, notably Kurt Lewin, tried to pro­duce “a sci­en­tif­ic means of fos­ter­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic and egal­i­tar­i­an norms and pre­vent­ing tyran­ny and oppres­sion from gain­ing the upper hand in soci­ety,” as well as to come to terms with the atroc­i­ties inflict­ed dur­ing World War II.

    By the 1960s, social psy­chol­o­gists, notably Melvin J. Lern­er, had con­duct­ed stud­ies which found the con­cept of jus­tice to be a strong moti­va­tor in human behav­ior. Accord­ing to Lerner’s find­ings, the ques­tion of “who is enti­tled to what and why?” springs from some of the most basic struc­tures in the devel­op­ment of human iden­ti­ty.

    Lern­er posit­ed that a major devel­op­men­tal step in a child’s under­stand­ing of its place in a soci­ety comes from iden­ti­fy­ing the self in terms of in-groups, and and then ini­ti­at­ing some­thing called “imper­son­al cau­sa­tion” accord­ing to these group­ings. “Imper­son­al cau­sa­tion” entails that if a cer­tain behav­ior is per­formed, a cer­tain viable out­come can be expect­ed.

    As chil­dren begin to under­stand that if they avoid knee-jerk impuls­es and func­tion accord­ing to more abstract reward sys­tems, they can attain greater ben­e­fits. (An exam­ple of greater reward with­in a more abstract reward sys­tem would be, say, a child for­go­ing play­ing with his friends in the after­noon to do chores for an allowance, and then sav­ing to buy a bicy­cle.)

    Ini­tial find­ings in this area of social psy­chol­o­gy deter­mined the “jus­tice motive” sim­i­lar to the more com­plex, abstract goals that func­tion along­side “imper­son­al cau­sa­tion.” Jus­tice, as opposed to ratio­nal self-inter­est, was found to be a salient moti­va­tor of human behav­ior. Psy­chol­o­gists observed that peo­ple saw jus­tice as a some­what objec­tive mea­sure of real­i­ty and not just a way to fur­ther their own desires. Sub­jects were moti­vat­ed by a sense of fair­ness, a “social con­tract” between them­selves and oth­ers.

    ...

    The Just World hypoth­e­sis is one type of sys­tem jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, a cog­ni­tive bias where a person’s cir­cum­stances are incor­rect­ly believed to always indi­cate his or her behav­ior. An exam­ple of this sort of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is when vic­tims of sex­u­al assault are blamed for their own vic­tim­iza­tion. Because peo­ple can’t explain the ter­ri­ble things that hap­pens in the world, and because humans need to imag­ine a sort of cos­mic bal­ance of jus­tice, they incor­rect­ly assign blame to those most local to mis­for­tune.

    The Just World hypoth­e­sis was first stud­ied by Lern­er, after he observed some­thing that has since come to be referred to as “vic­tim-blam­ing,” vic­tims of abuse being blamed for their cir­cum­stance, as well as the phe­nom­e­na of peo­ple with low socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus get­ting blamed with­out ref­er­ence to the social struc­tures under­ly­ing pover­ty.

    In one telling study, Lern­er made sub­jects watch two men per­form tasks and then receive rewards. Par­tic­i­pants report­ed that they felt more favor­ably toward the man who received a reward for the task, even though such rewards were giv­en ran­dom­ly, total­ly unre­lat­ed to the suc­cess of the task per­formed. Just World ratio­nal­iza­tions occur espe­cial­ly after peo­ple wit­ness ter­ri­ble events that can’t be explained.

    ...

    Huh, well that’s sure an inter­est­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal fun-fact: the more you’re paid, the more favor­ably oth­er ran­dom peo­ple feel towards you. Pro­gres­sive Kristall­nacht here we come! And here’s a tan­gen­tial­ly relat­ed fun-fact: win­ning the lot­tery makes you more like­ly to become a right-winger:

    The Con­science of a Lib­er­al

    Feb 13, 11:58 am 30
    Vox Anti-Pop­uli
    Paul Krug­man

    Right now the online cur­rent-pol­i­cy eco­nom­ics jour­nal VoxEU — edit­ed by my old stu­dent Richard Bald­win — has two fan­tas­tic pieces on inequal­i­ty.

    First up, Andrew Oswald and Nat­tavudh Powdthavee test the effect of wealth on polit­i­cal atti­tudes by look­ing at peo­ple who got rich­er, not through their efforts or inher­i­tance, but by win­ning the lot­tery. Sure enough, lot­tery win­ners become more right-wing. Maybe that’s not sur­pris­ing, but in case you had any doubts about whether to be a cyn­ic, this should dis­pel them.

    Even more inter­est­ing is the effect on polit­i­cal atti­tudes: lot­tery win­ners also became more like­ly to praise the cur­rent, unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion of income:

    ...

    Think about that for a minute. You might imag­ine that a self-made man, rea­son­ing from his own expe­ri­ence, might come to the con­clu­sion that peo­ple get what they deserve. But here are peo­ple who demon­stra­bly, by design, got rich(er) through pure chance, hav­ing noth­ing to do with their tal­ents or efforts. Yet their increased wealth nonethe­less con­vinces them that soci­ety is fair. Pre­sum­ably a big enough lot­tery win would turn them into Tom Perkins.

    ...

    The study also found that the “the larg­er is their lot­tery win, the greater is that person’s sub­se­quent ten­den­cy, after con­trol­ling for oth­er influ­ences, to switch their polit­i­cal views from left to right”. So all we need for a right-wing rev­o­lu­tion is a lot­tery that every­one wins. But, of course, that would be wel­fare. Back to the draw­ing board.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 13, 2014, 3:58 pm
  24. Tom Perkins, the ‘Pro­gres­sive Kristall­nacht’ bil­lion­aire, just dropped the mask a lit­tle bit more when asked for an idea that would “change the world”. His idea? Dump this ‘one man, one vote’ non­sense. If you don’t pay at least a dol­lar in tax­es you don’t get a vote. But Perkins imme­di­ate­ly dou­bled-down with an even bet­ter idea: One dol­lar in tax­es gets you one vote. And a mil­lion dol­lars in tax­es gets you a mil­lion votes. Etc. Just think of it as the updat­ed neo­re­ac­tionary ver­sion of the Own­er­ship Soci­ety:

    Tom Perkins’ big idea: The rich should get more votes
    By Charles Riley @CRrileyCNN Feb­ru­ary 14, 2014: 8:22 AM ET

    HONG KONG (CNN­Money)
    Tom Perkins sug­gest­ed Thurs­day that only tax­pay­ers should have the right to vote — and that wealthy Amer­i­cans who pay more in tax­es should get more votes.

    The ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist offered the unortho­dox pro­pos­al when asked to name one idea that would “change the world” at a speak­ing engage­ment in San Fran­cis­co mod­er­at­ed by For­tune’s Adam Lashin­sky.

    “The Tom Perkins sys­tem is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dol­lar of tax­es,” Perkins said.

    “But what I real­ly think is, it should be like a cor­po­ra­tion. You pay a mil­lion dol­lars in tax­es, you get a mil­lion votes. How’s that?”

    The audi­ence at the Com­mon­wealth Club react­ed with laugh­ter. But Perkins offered no imme­di­ate indi­ca­tion that he was jok­ing. Asked off­stage if the pro­pos­al was seri­ous, Perkins said: “I intend­ed to be out­ra­geous, and it was.”

    Perkins seemed to be aware that he was court­ing con­tro­ver­sy, say­ing that his vot­ing pro­pos­al would “make you more angry than my let­ter to the Wall Street Jour­nal.”

    That let­ter, pub­lished last month, com­pared the sup­posed assault on the wealthy to a wave of Nazi attacks on Jews ahead of the Holo­caust.

    The let­ter sparked a pub­lic firestorm, and the ven­ture cap­i­tal firm he co-found­ed — Klein­er Perkins Cau­field & Byers — dis­tanced itself from his com­ments. Perkins has since allowed that the com­par­i­son went too far, but has not apol­o­gized for the over­all mes­sage and his warn­ing about anti-rich “rad­i­cal­ism.”

    ...

    For his part, Perkins shows no signs of back­ing down from his argu­ment that the rich in Amer­i­ca are under attack. Perkins said Thurs­day that the trend has grown since the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Oba­ma — who he described as an “ama­teur.”

    Pressed for exam­ples of how the rich were being demo­nized, Perkins said that he feared high­er tax­es.

    “The fear is wealth tax, high­er tax­es, high­er death tax­es — just more tax­es until there is no more 1%. And that that will creep down to the 5% and then the 10%,” he said.

    Like syphilis, affluen­za can do awful things to elder­ly mind.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 14, 2014, 8:26 am
  25. Look who else is jump­ing on board the “Pro­gres­sives are scape­goat­ing the rich just like Hitler scape­goat­ed the Jews”-meme: Oba­ma’s dis­tant cousin:

    TPM Livewire
    Oba­ma’s Tea Par­ty Cousin Thinks The Pres­i­dent Is Hitler

    Daniel Strauss – Feb­ru­ary 14, 2014, 10:51 AM EST9290

    Kansas Sen­ate can­di­date Dr. Mil­ton Wolf has com­pared Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma to Hitler.

    The com­par­i­son is more sur­pris­ing when you con­sid­er Wolf is a dis­tant cousin of Oba­ma’s. Wolf is run­ning in the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry to unseat incum­bent Sen. Pat Roberts (R‑KS), who he said isn’t con­ser­v­a­tive enough.

    As Moth­er Jones’ Tim Mur­phy not­ed on Fri­day, Wolf com­pared Oba­ma’s treat­ment of “suc­cess­ful Amer­i­cans” to the Naz­i’s treat­ment of Jews.

    Scape­goats of his­to­ry: Hitler — Jews & gyp­sies. Mus­soli­ni — Jews & Bol­she­viks. #Oba­ma — Suc­cess­ful Amer­i­cans. #tcot #p2 #gop

    — Dr. Mil­ton Wolf (@miltonwolfmd) Decem­ber 13, 2012

    Wolf also argued to anoth­er Twit­ter user that Amer­i­can lib­er­als are vir­tu­al­ly in lock­step pol­i­cy-wise with Nazis.

    “Oth­er than killing Jews, what domes­tic pol­i­cy of the Nazis do today’s Amer­i­can lib­er­als oppose?” Wolf tweet­ed.

    Wolf has, how­ev­er, also heaped praise on Oba­ma in the past.

    “I speak for nobody but myself but we are all enor­mous­ly proud of him and his achieve­ment and it has been a tremen­dous hon­or to be in the fam­i­ly that gets put in the front row of his­to­ry,” Wolf said in an inter­view with Fox News in 2010 also flagged by Moth­er Jones.

    Pro­gres­sive Kristall­nacht: it’ll be just like one big ‘death pan­el’ for the bil­lion­aires.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 14, 2014, 1:55 pm
  26. Here’s some good news that’s also bad news:

    Salon

    Filthy rich but secret­ly ter­ri­fied: Inside the 1 percent’s sore-win­ner back­lash
    Why are the super-rich whin­ing so much? They rigged the game for them­selves, but are ter­ri­fied of being dis­cov­ered
    Joan Walsh
    Tues­day, Feb 18, 2014 12:03 PM CST

    What explains the tox­ic mélange of enti­tle­ment and shame that’s dri­ving the rag­ing 1 per­cent sore-win­ner back­lash? From Tom Perkins com­par­ing the ultra-rich to Jews dur­ing “Kristall­nacht,” to tycoon and news­pa­per-destroy­er Sam Zell insist­ing “the top 1 per­cent work hard­er,” to invest­ment banker Wilbur Ross pro­claim­ing that “the 1 per­cent is being picked on for polit­i­cal rea­sons,” there’s an epi­dem­ic of plu­to­crat self-pity afoot. Just last week ex-CEO of Mor­gan Stan­ley John Mack told the media to “stop beat­ing up on” CEOs Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blank­fein after they got obscene rais­es from JPMor­gan Chase and Gold­man Sachs.

    The sore win­ner back­lash is odd tim­ing. There’s no longer any real move­ment to hike tax­es on their income or their wealth, both of which are at all-time highs. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has said an increase in tax rates is “off the table.” There’s no more dis­cus­sion of the “Buf­fett Rule,” named for the Berk­shire-Hath­away ora­cle who famous­ly sug­gest­ed his sec­re­tary should no longer pay high­er rates than her boss.

    Almost nobody talks about end­ing the “car­ried inter­est” loop­hole that lets hedge fund man­agers pay a shame­ful­ly low rate on much of what should be con­sid­ered income; instead there’s a “boom in trusts pass­ing car­ried inter­est to heirs,” the Wall Street Jour­nal reports. Yes, they’ve fig­ured out a way to pass that unfair advan­tage onto their heirs through new estate-tax dodges. Sad­ly, Occu­py Wall Street has fiz­zled, so they can even enjoy Zuc­cot­ti Park unac­cost­ed.

    So why all the whin­ing now? I read Kevin Roose’s buzzy “I crashed a secret Wall Street soci­ety” piece Mon­day morn­ing look­ing for insight. You should read it if you haven’t. It’s a fun hate-read. You’ll come away think­ing, if you don’t already, that a lot of these peo­ple are mon­sters.

    Appar­ent­ly the secret fra­ter­ni­ty Kap­pa Beta Phi gath­ers the titans of Wall Street at the St. Reg­is once a year for a gala that cel­e­brates their wealth and pow­er and mocks the rest of us. New inductees to the fra­ter­ni­ty are charged with putting on a vari­ety show to enter­tain the long-tenured. The evening fea­tures all the stan­dard bad behav­ior com­mon to male soci­eties, from sports teams to mil­i­tary units to the boys of the Bohemi­an Grove. Cross dress­ing? Check.

    After cock­tail hour, the new inductees – all of whom were required to dress in leo­tards and gold-sequined skirts, with cos­tume wigs – began their vari­ety-show acts.

    Misog­y­ny and homo­pho­bia? Check.

    The jokes ranged from unfun­ny and sex­ist (Q: “What’s the biggest dif­fer­ence between Hillary Clin­ton and a cat­fish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the oth­er is a fish”) to unfun­ny and homo­pho­bic (Q: “What’s the biggest dif­fer­ence between Bar­ney Frank and a Fen­way Frank?” A: “Bar­ney Frank comes in dif­fer­ent-size buns”).

    Mock­ing the los­er-out­siders, who para­dox­i­cal­ly make their great wealth pos­si­ble? Check.

    One of the last skits of the night was a self-con­grat­u­la­to­ry par­o­dy of ABBA’s “Danc­ing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”

    When Roose was dis­cov­ered, he was eject­ed from the ball­room, and the sto­ry wound up in his new book, “Young Mon­ey,” a por­trait of eight entry-lev­el Wall Street traders, which came out today. The Kap­pa Beta Phi sto­ry was excerpt­ed in New York mag­a­zine.

    What the excerpt cap­tured was the insu­lar­i­ty and para­noia of plu­to­crats who band togeth­er to pro­tect them­selves from most­ly imag­ined social oppro­bri­um and self-doubt. As Paul Krug­man has argued, they aren’t like the titans of yore who made things; they “push mon­ey around and get rich by skim­ming some off the top as it slosh­es by.” They’ve got­ten insane­ly wealthy main­ly by rig­ging the rules of the game to priv­i­lege the world of finance, and it’s no won­der they’re wor­ried the rest of us will some­day fig­ure that out.

    The good news from Roose’s work? Among younger Wall Streeters, there’s more doubt than you might expect. The per­cent­age of Ivy Lea­guers going into invest­ment bank­ing straight out of col­lege is drop­ping. Before it fad­ed, Occu­py Wall Street had an impact on some of his young sub­jects, Roose reveals. The bad news is, the peo­ple who have doubts about the moral­i­ty of their enter­prise, and about their own priv­i­lege, tend to leave, so that those who remain are par­tic­u­lar­ly enti­tled and/or delud­ed.

    Still, that nag­ging doubt helps explain the back­lash. They project in order to pro­tect them­selves. Their self-defense gets ever loud­er.

    ...

    Yes, the upcom­ing gen­er­a­tion of puta­tive banksters might not be so keen on com­mit­ting to a life­time of wealth accu­mu­la­tion at any cost. That’s cer­tain­ly good news, but it comes with the added caveat that these kind of con­science-dri­ven brain-drains can end up hav­ing the effect of rad­i­cal­iz­ing the remain­ing mem­bers of the group even more.

    In oth­er news...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 19, 2014, 12:14 pm
  27. Here’s one more rea­son for soci­ety to demand rea­son­able work hours and lim­its on over­time: On top of our jobs and tak­ing care of fam­i­ly and every­thing else, we all have a part-time job that’s easy to ignore but absolute­ly essen­tial...reign­ing in those crazy plu­to­crats:

    Salon
    Sun­day, Mar 30, 2014 06:00 AM CST
    Plu­toc­ra­cy with­out end: Why the 1 per­cent always defeats the mid­dle class
    There are more of us than them. But income inequal­i­ty keeps get­ting worse — and there is sad­ly no end in sight
    Thomas Frank

    I’ve been writ­ing about what we polite­ly call “inequal­i­ty” since the mid-1990s, but one day about ten years ago, when I was trav­el­ing the coun­try lec­tur­ing about the tox­ic curlicues of right-wing cul­ture, it dawned on me that maybe I had been get­ting the entire sto­ry wrong. All the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ments that I spent my days bemoaning—the obscene enrich­ment of the CEO class, the assault on the reg­u­la­to­ry state, the ruina­tion of aver­age people—were very pos­si­bly not what I thought they were. When I talked about these things, I assumed they were an out­rage, an affront to the afflu­ent nation I still believed we were; once the scales fell from our eyes and Amer­i­cans fig­ured out what was hap­pen­ing, I argued, we would yell “stop,” bring this age of fol­ly to a close, and get back to mid­dle-class pros­per­i­ty as usu­al.

    What hit me that day was the pos­si­bil­i­ty that my hap­py, post­war mid­dle-class world was the excep­tion, and that the plu­toc­ra­cy we were grad­u­al­ly becom­ing was the norm. Maybe what was hap­pen­ing to us was a colos­sal rever­sion to a pre-Roo­sevelt­ian mean, and all the trap­pings of ordi­nary life that had seemed so sol­id and so per­ma­nent when I was young—the vast sub­urbs and the anchorman’s reas­sur­ing bari­tone and the nice appli­ances that filled the hous­es of the work­ing class—were aber­ra­tions made pos­si­ble by an unusu­al bal­ance of polit­i­cal forces main­tained only by the enor­mous polit­i­cal efforts of its ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

    Maybe the grav­i­ty of his­to­ry pulled in the exact oppo­site direc­tion of what I had always believed. If so, the ques­tion was not, “When will we get back to the right order of things,” but rather, “Would we ever stop falling?”

    Today, of course, the sit­u­a­tion has grown vast­ly worse. The sub­ject of inequal­i­ty is dis­cussed every­where; there are think tanks and aca­d­e­m­ic con­fer­ences ded­i­cat­ed to it; it has become social­ly per­mis­si­ble for polite peo­ple to won­der about the obscene gorg­ing of those at the top. Soon­er or lat­er the ques­tion that every­one asks, upon dis­cov­er­ing just how much of what Amer­i­cans pro­duce goes to the imbe­ciles in the pent­hous­es and exec­u­tive suites, is this: How much fur­ther can this thing go?

    The One Per­cent have already bro­ken every record for wealth-hog­ging set by their ances­tors, going back to the dawn of record-keep­ing in 1913. But what if it all just keeps going? How much fat­ter can the fat cats get before they hit some kind of nat­ur­al lim­it? Before the invis­i­ble thumb of his­to­ry press­es down on the oth­er side of the scale and restores bal­ance?

    That we are very close to such a limit—that the con­tra­dic­tions inher­ent in the sys­tem will auto­mat­i­cal­ly be its undoing—is an idea much in the air of late. Not many still sub­scribe to Marx’s dialec­ti­cal vision of his­to­ry, in which inevitable work­er immis­er­a­tion would be fol­lowed, also inevitably, by a rev­o­lu­tion­ary explo­sion, but there are oth­er inevitabil­i­ties that seem equal­ly per­sua­sive today. We hear much, for exam­ple, about how inequal­i­ty con­tributed to the hous­ing bub­ble and the finan­cial cri­sis, how it has brought us an imbal­anced econ­o­my that can­not sur­vive.

    It reminds me of the once-influ­en­tial the­o­ry of inequal­i­ty advanced by the econ­o­mist Simon Kuznets, who thought that cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties sim­ply became more egal­i­tar­i­an as they matured—a the­o­ry that is care­ful­ly debunked by econ­o­mist Thomas Piket­ty in his new book, “Cap­i­tal in the Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry.” It also reminds me of the the­o­ries of the econ­o­mist Ravi Batra, who in 1987 pre­dict­ed a “Great Depres­sion of 1990” because (among oth­er things) inequal­i­ty would have by then had reached what he believed to be unsus­tain­able lev­els.

    It is an attrac­tive fan­ta­sy, this faith that some kind of built-in restraint will stop all this from going too far. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, what it reminds me of the most are the sim­i­lar mech­a­nisms that Democ­rats like to dream about on those occa­sions when the Repub­li­can Par­ty has won anoth­er elec­tion. As the tri­umphant wingers stand athwart the uncon­scious bod­ies of their oppo­nents, beat­ing their chests and bel­low­ing for some new and awe­some­ly destruc­tive tax cut, a liberal’s heart turns long­ing­ly to such chimera as pen­du­lum the­o­ry, or thir­ty-year-cycle the­o­ry, or the the­o­ry of the inevitable tri­umph of the cen­ter. Some great force will fix those guys, we mum­ble. One of these days, they’ll get their come­up­pance.

    But the cos­mic cav­al­ry nev­er shows up. No deus ex machi­na will arrive to res­cue the mid­dle-class soci­ety, either. The eco­nom­ic sys­tem is always in some sort of cri­sis or anoth­er; some­how it always man­ages to sur­vive.

    One of the ways it man­ages to sur­vive, in fact, is by work­ing the pub­lic into parox­ysms of fear at those who pro­claim the inevitable destruc­tion of the sys­tem. I refer here not only to the Repub­li­cans’ rou­tine deplor­ing of “class war,” by which they mean any crit­i­cism of plu­toc­ra­cy, but also to the once-influ­en­tial right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, who in 2009 and 2010 was just about the only one in Amer­i­ca who thought to take seri­ous­ly the obscure French anar­chist tract, “The Com­ing Insur­rec­tion.” Night after night in those dark days, Beck would use the book to ter­ri­fy his vast audi­ence of seniors and goldbugs—anarchy was right around the corner!—and to this day you can still find the tract on the read­ing lists of 9/12 clubs across the coun­try.

    Let us not for­get that it was thanks to the ener­getic activ­i­ty of those 9/12 clubs and the close­ly aligned Tea Par­ty that the obvi­ous and con­ven­tion­al — and maybe even inevitable — response to the 2008 cat­a­stro­phe was not the response the pub­lic chose. Accord­ing to an impor­tant recent paper by the soci­ol­o­gists Clem Brooks and Jeff Man­za, the ortho­dox poli-sci the­o­ry of eco­nom­ic down­turn holds that vot­ers “turn away from unreg­u­lat­ed mar­kets and demand more gov­ern­ment in times of eco­nom­ic down­turn and ris­ing unem­ploy­ment.” But in the down­turn of the last few years, peo­ple react­ed dif­fer­ent­ly: “Rather than the reces­sion stim­u­lat­ing new pub­lic demands for gov­ernent, Amer­i­cans grav­i­tat­ed toward low­er sup­port for gov­ern­ment respon­si­bil­i­ty for social and eco­nom­ic prob­lems.” And they swept in the Repub­li­can Con­gress of 2010, a result that, accord­ing to Brooks and Man­za, has much to do with the hyper­bol­ic con­ser­vatism of par­ti­san orga­ni­za­tions like Fox News.

    A sec­ond irony, worth not­ing in pass­ing, is that the right-wing offen­sive against pub­lic pen­sions, which began as soon as the Repub­li­can wave land­ed, has been car­ried on under the ban­ner of his­tor­i­cal deter­min­ism, with every­one agree­ing that the rich are going to get their way with the unions and that no alter­na­tive exists. (“Detroit pen­sion cuts were inevitable, city con­sul­tant tes­ti­fies,” screams a typ­i­cal head­line on the sub­ject.)

    *

    ...

    The ugly fact that we must face is that this thing can go much far­ther still. Plu­toc­ra­cy shocks us every day with its vicious­ness, but that doesn’t mean God will strike it down. The mid­dle-class mod­el worked much bet­ter for about nine­ty-nine per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, but that doesn’t make it some kind of dialec­tic inevitabil­i­ty. You can build a plu­to­crat­ic mod­el that will stum­ble along just fine, like it did in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. It requires dif­fer­ent things: instead of refrig­er­a­tors for all, it needs bought leg­is­la­tures and armies of strikebreakers—plus bailouts for the big banks when they col­lapse under the weight of their stu­pid loans, an inno­va­tion of our own time. All this may be hurt­ful, inef­fi­cient, and unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic, but it won’t dis­man­tle itself all on its own.

    That is our job. No one else is going to do it for us.

    Or we can let the plu­to­crats con­tin­ue reign­ing in us and just revert back to the his­tor­i­cal norm of mass dis­em­pow­er­ment, although it prob­a­bly won’t resem­ble his­to­ry very much. Maybe ancient his­to­ry.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 1, 2014, 8:10 am
  28. Some­time croc­o­dile tears are appro­pri­ate. Some­times:

    Van­i­ty Fair
    10:18 AM, April 3 2014
    Pity the Rich After the Supreme Court’s Rul­ing on Donor Lim­its
    By Kia Makarechi

    Peo­ple who don’t have mil­lions of dol­lars set aside for influ­enc­ing elec­tion out­comes took an apoc­a­lyp­tic view of yesterday’s Supreme Court deci­sion to lift the ban on how much mon­ey an indi­vid­ual can donate to polit­i­cal cam­paigns in a sin­gle year.

    But pity the rich donors them­selves, who have now found anoth­er way to paint them­selves as vic­tims. They say they’re going to be even more vul­ner­a­ble to fund-rais­ers seek­ing to pick their pock­ets. And all these wealthy donors get in return is the pow­er to tell can­di­dates how to vote on issues like tax rates and the min­i­mum wage.

    “I’m hor­ri­fied, plan­ning to de-list my phone num­ber and destroy my email address,” one donor told Politi­co. “I’m poor again as a result,” said anoth­er lob­by­ist and donor. “The fundrais­ing con­sul­tants are the only win­ner in today’s deci­sion.”

    Long­time Texas donor Ben Barnes sur­mised that the day after the rul­ing would be “like Sat­ur­day at the gro­cery store” in an inter­view with Busi­ness Week. Anoth­er donor—who him­self made $1 mil­lion in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions in 2012—told Politi­co that the court’s deci­sion is detri­men­tal to democ­ra­cy and ups the “incen­tive for politi­cians to focus on a small num­ber of super-wealthy donors, rather than the gen­er­al pub­lic.”

    While lim­its on how much an indi­vid­ual can donate to a sin­gle can­di­date remain ($2,600 an elec­tion), the rul­ing in McCutcheon v. F.E.C. was wide­ly viewed as like­ly to make pay for play an even big­ger prob­lem in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. “If the court in Cit­i­zens Unit­ed opened a door, today’s deci­sion may well open a flood­gate,” Jus­tice Brey­er said in a rare oral dis­sent from the bench.

    If this is a flood­gate, what it replaces was a barn door, at best.

    Shel­don Adel­son, the casi­no mogul known for his May­bachs, tough body­guards and spend­ing $100 mil­lion on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions in 2012, held a vir­tu­al Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last week­end. The likes of Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walk­er flew to Las Vegas to pros­trate them­selves in front of the Repub­li­can Jew­ish Con­fer­ence, reaf­firm­ing their alle­giances to Israel’s cause and doing their best to impress Adel­son, despite the fact that he threw mil­lions of dol­lars at not one, but two failed 2012 bids.

    Charles Koch, anoth­er fan­tas­ti­cal­ly rich Repub­li­can donor, pub­lished a curi­ous­ly timed op-ed in The Wall Street Jour­nal on Wednes­day. The piece makes no men­tion of the court’s rul­ing, but it does set out an argu­ment for how he and his broth­er David—G.O.P. rain­mak­ers col­lec­tive­ly worth $80.4 bil­lion—are not try­ing to “rig the sys­tem” but actu­al­ly free­dom fight­ers work­ing against gov­ern­ment oppres­sion and “crony­ism.”

    “Instead of fos­ter­ing a sys­tem that enables peo­ple to help them­selves,” Koch wrote, “Amer­i­ca is now sad­dled with a sys­tem that destroys val­ue, rais­es costs, hin­ders inno­va­tion and rel­e­gates mil­lions of cit­i­zens to a life of pover­ty, depen­den­cy and hope­less­ness.” Koch sug­gests that he reluc­tant­ly start­ed engag­ing in the polit­i­cal process after real­iz­ing that “the fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of dig­ni­ty, respect, equal­i­ty before the law and per­son­al free­dom are under attack by the nation’s own gov­ern­ment.”

    ...

    Well there we go. Bil­lion­aires like the Koch broth­ers aren’t going to use the lat­est Supreme Court rul­ing to take over gov­ern­ment. No, they’re free­ing us from gov­ern­ment. They’re free­dom fight­ers! Mon­ey = pow­er, and no one has the pow­er these two have to change the course of his­to­ry. Of course, once they’ve freed you from the shack­les of the old pow­er, there’s still the ques­tion of what to do about the new pow­er:

    Cour­t­house News Ser­vice
    Weak Fas­cism
    By ROBERT KAHN
    Fri­day, March 28, 2014, Last Update: 2:42 AM PT

    Repub­li­cans are liv­ing down to their self-pro­claimed role as the par­ty of ideas. What they have been propos­ing for years is a form of weak fas­cism: not one in which the cor­po­ra­tions are put in har­ness to strength­en the gov­ern­ment, but one in which the gov­ern­ment is shack­led to the pow­er of cor­po­ra­tions.

    Fas­cism, Web­ster’s Sec­ond Edi­tion tells us, is “a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment char­ac­ter­ized by rigid one-par­ty dic­ta­tor­ship, forcible sup­pres­sion of the oppo­si­tion (unions, oth­er, espe­cial­ly left­ist, par­ties, minor­i­ty groups, etc.), the reten­tion of pri­vate own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion under cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment con­trol, bel­liger­ent nation­al­ism and racism, glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of war, etc.: first insti­tut­ed in Italy in 1922.”

    The only dif­fer­ence between Mus­solin­i’s Fas­cism and Repub­li­can fas­cism is the four words under cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment con­trol, yet if pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions con­trol or can dic­tate to the gov­ern­ment, that’s a dis­tinc­tion with­out a dif­fer­ence.

    Mus­soli­ni har­nessed the cor­po­ra­tions to the state. Repub­li­cans would har­ness the state to the cor­po­ra­tions. They claim they want to free the cor­po­ra­tions from the shack­les of gov­ern­ment. That’s noth­ing but right-wing anar­chy.

    Anar­chists, a polit­i­cal move­ment con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous with Ital­ian Fas­cism, believed — I quote from Web­ster’s Sec­ond again — that “for­mal gov­ern­ment of any kind is unnec­es­sary and wrong in prin­ci­ple.”

    That’s an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of anar­chism. Most anar­chists believed that local gov­ern­ment — “local con­trol” — was accept­able. Local con­trol — states’ rights, in vot­ing, racial poli­cies, “sci­ence” and reli­gious cur­ricu­lum in pub­lic schools, what women should be allowed to do, and so on, is, of course, a ban­ner cause of the so-called tea par­ty — the Repub­li­can fas­cists.

    Mod­ern Amer­i­can fas­cism, then, has just one essen­tial dif­fer­ence from Ital­ian or Ger­man fas­cism of the bloody 20th cen­tu­ry: whether the con­trols should be exert­ed by gov­ern­ment or cor­po­ra­tions.

    Tea par­ty Repub­li­cans are square­ly on the side of the cor­po­ra­tions, and this is a place where Repub­li­can fas­cism and Lib­er­tar­i­ans meet.

    ...

    Yes, what are we to do if the cen­tral­ized fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is sim­ply replaced by weak fas­cism? Do we wait for a new set of Big Broth­ers to free us from our new cor­po­rate chains? That seems kind of pathet­ic. Maybe we can take a cue from our bold free­dom fight­ing eco­nom­ic strong-men and free our­selves from their weak fas­cism:

    Salon
    Thurs­day, Apr 3, 2014 03:59 PM CST
    Want to cut the rich’s influ­ence? Take away their mon­ey!
    To real­ly bypass the Supreme Court and fix cam­paign finance for­ev­er, it’s time to get cre­ative
    Alex Pareene

    Chief Jus­tice John Roberts this week con­tin­ued his grad­ual judi­cial elim­i­na­tion of America’s cam­paign finance laws, with a deci­sion in McCutcheon v. FEC that elim­i­nates “aggre­gate” con­tri­bu­tion lim­its from indi­vid­u­als to polit­i­cal par­ties, PACs and can­di­dates. The deci­sion may not have a cat­a­stroph­ic effect, in a world where indi­vid­u­als were already per­mit­ted to donate unlim­it­ed sums to inde­pen­dent polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions, but it is just anoth­er move toward the end of reg­u­la­tion of polit­i­cal spend­ing alto­geth­er. If Amer­i­cans want to lim­it the influ­ence of mon­ey on pol­i­tics, they will have to start get­ting more cre­ative.

    Roberts’ spe­cial­ty is “faux judi­cial restraint,” in which he achieves his rad­i­cal desired goals over the course of many incre­men­tal deci­sions instead of one sweep­ing one. In this case, as many observers have not­ed, Roberts point­ed to our cur­rent eas­i­ly cir­cum­vent­ed caps on polit­i­cal spend­ing as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for lift­ing yet anoth­er cap, with­out not­ing that the Roberts court helped cre­ate the cur­rent sys­tem to begin with. Our cam­paign finance laws have not quite yet been “evis­cer­at­ed,” but the trend is clear. Roberts and Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, who penned a par­tial dis­sent call­ing for all reg­u­la­tion of polit­i­cal spend­ing to be elim­i­nat­ed, have some­thing close to the same end goal, but Roberts is will­ing to be patient in get­ting there.

    ...

    So, if we think that mon­ey in pol­i­tics is a prob­lem; if we think it cre­ates the appear­ance of cor­rup­tion, alien­ates non-wealthy cit­i­zens from the demo­c­ra­t­ic process, per­verts incen­tives for politi­cians and can­di­dates, and cre­ates an unequal sys­tem in which the speech of the rich drowns out the speech of every­one else — and all of those things are already the long-stand­ing sta­tus quo — we can no longer seek to address the prob­lem by pre­vent­ing mon­ey from flow­ing into pol­i­tics. The Supreme Court is clear­ly not going to meet a new spend­ing restric­tion that it likes any time soon. Instead of attempt­ing to dic­tate how the wealthy spend their mon­ey, we are prob­a­bly just going to have to take away their mon­ey.

    If the super-rich had less mon­ey, they would have less mon­ey to spend on cam­paigns and lob­by­ing. And unlike speech, the gov­ern­ment is very clear­ly allowed to take away people’s mon­ey. It’s in the Con­sti­tu­tion and every­thing. I know it wasn’t that long ago that it also seemed obvi­ous that the gov­ern­ment could reg­u­late polit­i­cal spend­ing, but in this case the rel­e­vant con­sti­tu­tion­al author­i­ty is pret­ty clear and there is no room for a so-called orig­i­nal­ist to jus­ti­fy a polit­i­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive read­ing of the text. Con­gress can tax income any way it pleas­es.

    There is one glar­ing prob­lem with my plan, of course, which is that Con­gress is already cap­tured by wealthy inter­ests, and is not inclined to tax them. But all I’m say­ing is that would-be cam­paign finance reform­ers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift their ener­gies toward con­fis­ca­tion and redis­tri­b­u­tion.

    As the arti­cle points out, one big flaw with the plan to pro­tect our­selves from the deep pock­ets of weak fas­cists is the fact that Con­gress is already bought off and it’s only going to get worse. But think of how bad it’ll be once weak fas­cism is even more entrenched? In oth­er words, if we real­ly believe the Koch broth­er’s ‘Free­dom’ agen­da is an inevitabil­i­ty and we real­ly are head­ing into an era of near­ly unre­strained pow­er for the ultra-wealthy, we had bet­ter start pro­tect­ing our free­doms now before it’s too late. Come on human­i­ty. You can do this!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 4, 2014, 9:05 am
  29. One of the fun things about the mod­ern age is that we get answers to ques­tions that are very dif­fi­cult to ask under sane con­di­tions. Ques­tions like: What would the world be like if it was run by crazy peo­ple that were very adept at seem­ing sane to the casu­al observ­er:

    TPM Edi­tor’s Blog
    A Must-Read from the ‘Brit­tle Grip’ Series

    Josh Mar­shall – April 7, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT1930

    I’ve been whit­tling away at this “brit­tle grip” series for a while now. And I con­fess it’s the first con­tem­po­rary or pub­lic issue that I’ve felt any urge to write about at length in many years. But since I’m not able to do that I’ve had to con­tent myself with obser­va­tion, anec­dote and hypothe­ses. Social psy­chol­o­gy, eco­nom­ics, exten­sive inter­views and much more would be nec­es­sary to real­ly grasp the issue in all its dimen­sions. That’s why I was so charged to receive this read­er email on the brit­tle grip theme from TPM Read­er ML. It’s real­ly, real­ly worth your time to read.

    I am an MBA and, after work­ing in the “pri­vate sec­tor” for a good while am back in the pub­lic pol­i­cy world. I am also a fel­low Brown grad (and long time read­er — since ear­ly 2000s).

    Any­way, I was, at one point, a real free mar­ket believ­er. I did some Jeff Sachs goes to Bolivia type of stuff. It was a heady time — the 90s. The mar­ket could bring pros­per­i­ty to peas­ants in Bolivia (if only they let us pri­va­tize retire­ment and force them to become investors some­how). The mar­ket was good for you and every­one.

    The key to all of this? Basi­cal­ly, the “sci­ence” behind the mar­ket. The effi­cient mar­ket the­o­ry. Black Scholes! Port­fo­lio the­o­ry! Betas! If you had the tools, you too could make mon­ey. Prices were set by the “mar­ket” and data not men. My finance profs at my busi­ness school seemed like sci­en­tists (not thereoti­cians).

    Any­way, in 2008 what hap­pened is that the effi­cient mar­ket the­o­ry went to shit. Krug­man, Justin Fox and oth­ers have writ­ten about this exten­sive­ly and per­sua­sive­ly. Iron­i­cal­ly, the main­stream and busi­ness media have ignored this pret­ty impor­tant find­ing from 2008. That the num­bers show that mar­kets were not that effi­cient. That you can’t bal­ance port­fo­lios. That Wall Street does­n’t know how to price risk.

    The crash turned effi­cient mar­kets the­o­ry into ide­ol­o­gy rather than sci­ence. Fox, Krug­man and oth­er talk alot about this. The guys at Chica­go — super smart, data dri­ven peo­ple — are now ignor­ing data because it leads to con­clu­sions that they don’t like — that mar­kets can be irra­tional.

    The same thing is hap­pen­ing with Wall Street. Being a Free Mar­ket per­son is now more about belief than data.

    I see the con­se­quences in the non prof­it world where I now work. We have fun­ders who — before 2008- were open to mar­ket based and pol­i­cy solu­tions to social change. After 2008, it changed. Sud­den­ly, the ONLY solu­tion was the free mar­ket (iron­ic giv­en that 2008 proved that the free mar­ket is far from a per­fect solu­tion for many things). If you were for pol­i­cy change — sud­den­ly you were a social­ist.

    All of this has put the peo­ple who defined them­selves by the free mar­ket under seige. Free mar­ket, finance guys don’t have to read Ayn Rand to feel this way. They just have to rely on the idea that the free mar­ket for their busi­ness and intel­lec­tu­al assur­ance that mak­ing mon­ey is good. This includes a lot of peo­ple in finance, ven­ture cap­i­tal, busi­ness.

    I do have some sym­pa­thy for these guys. I believed in this stuff too. It would be nice if it were true and that free mar­kets could bring free­dom and pros­per­i­ty to all of us. The fact that the data — DATA! — is against them in this regard makes every­one tetchy.

    For me, what hap­pened (for con­text) is that after my Sach like work (also in South Amer­i­ca) I saw the con­se­quences of pri­va­tiz­ing the air­lines and bank — it was to make a few guys like Car­los Slim real­ly rich (and not help many oth­ers). It turned me from a true believ­er into an apos­tate. I always thought that what hap­pened in Mex­i­co and South Amer­i­ca in the 90s and ear­ly 2000s could be an object les­son for us in the US and, lo and behold, I may have been onto some­thing.

    Yep, in today’s world, we get to ask crazy ques­tions like that all the time. Over and over.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 7, 2014, 11:12 am
  30. On great, a new Prince­ton study just declared that democ­ra­cy in the US is offi­cial­ly dead. While depress­ing, this should­n’t come as too much of a sur­prise. Veg­e­ta­tive comas can’t last for­ev­er

    TPM Livewire
    Prince­ton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actu­al Democ­ra­cy

    Bren­dan James – April 18, 2014, 10:43 AM EDT1128

    A new study from Prince­ton spells bad news for Amer­i­can democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

    Ask­ing “[w]ho real­ly rules?” researchers Mar­tin Gilens and Ben­jamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades Amer­i­ca’s polit­i­cal sys­tem has slow­ly trans­formed from a democ­ra­cy into an oli­garchy, where wealthy elites wield most pow­er.

    Using data drawn from over 1,800 dif­fer­ent pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives from 1981 to 2002, the two con­clude that rich, well-con­nect­ed indi­vid­u­als on the polit­i­cal scene now steer the direc­tion of the coun­try, regard­less of or even against the will of the major­i­ty of vot­ers.

    “The cen­tral point that emerges from our research is that eco­nom­ic elites and orga­nized groups rep­re­sent­ing busi­ness inter­ests have sub­stan­tial inde­pen­dent impacts on U.S. gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy,” they write, “while mass-based inter­est groups and aver­age cit­i­zens have lit­tle or no inde­pen­dent influ­ence.”

    As one illus­tra­tion, Gilens and Page com­pare the polit­i­cal pref­er­ences of Amer­i­cans at the 50th income per­centile to pref­er­ences of Amer­i­cans at the 90th per­centile as well as major lob­by­ing or busi­ness groups. They find that the government—whether Repub­li­can or Democratic—more often fol­lows the pref­er­ences of the lat­ter group rather than the first.

    The research­es note that this is not a new devel­op­ment caused by, say, recent Supreme Court deci­sions allow­ing more mon­ey in pol­i­tics, such as Cit­i­zens Unit­ed or this mon­th’s rul­ing on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretch­ing back to the 1980s sug­gests, this has been a long term trend, and is there­fore hard­er for most peo­ple to per­ceive, let alone reverse.

    Ordi­nary cit­i­zens,” they write, “might often be observed to ‘win’ (that is, to get their pre­ferred pol­i­cy out­comes) even if they had no inde­pen­dent effect what­so­ev­er on pol­i­cy mak­ing, if elites (with whom they often agree) actu­al­ly pre­vail.”

    “...this has been a long term trend, and is there­fore hard­er for most peo­ple to per­ceive, let alone reverse.”

    What non­sense. Of course the cit­i­zens can reverse it! They just need to vote for...oh wait.

    Well, as the arti­cle points out, at least that does­n’t mean vot­ers won’t ever get the poli­cies they desire. Some­times they might hap­pen want what the oli­garchs want too. For instance, if you hate the idea of pub­lic trans­porta­tion in your city and love wait­ing in traf­fic, you might love one of the Koch Broth­ers’ most recent pet projects:

    Vice
    Moth­er­board
    This Afford­able Mass Tran­sit Tech­nol­o­gy Is Now All But Ille­gal in Ten­nessee
    April 16, 2014 // 05:00 PM EST

    Think of Bus Rapid Tran­sit as mass trans­porta­tion done cyber­punk. Can’t afford shiny new high-speed rail tech­nol­o­gy? Carve out a ded­i­cat­ed lane, roll out a tick­et­ing app, and watch the bus beat the traf­fic. It’s a high-tech idea exe­cut­ed with low-tech parts, at low­er cost. If a bul­let train is the $1,500 Google Glass, BRT is the $300 DIY ver­sion. It’s the best kind of city hack. So it’s too bad a pair of bil­lion­aires just helped shut down one of the most promis­ing BRT star­tups in the nation.

    Nashville was poised to become the proud own­er of a new BRT line, called Amp. The con­cept has proved an over­whelm­ing suc­cess in a num­ber of cities abroad—Curi­ta­ba, Brazil, is maybe the most famous, but there are promi­nent lines in Chi­na, Argenti­na, and South Korea, as well as right here in the states, in Kansas City and New York.

    The may­or of Nashville had secured plans to cre­ate a $175 mil­lion BRT sys­tem to increase cit­i­zen mobil­i­ty and help thwart con­ges­tion as the city’s pop­u­la­tion swelled. That might sound expen­sive, but for a tran­sit project in a major city, it’s a bargain—especially since BRT has repeat­ed­ly shown it stim­u­lates economies and reduces pol­lu­tion.

    But even this rel­a­tive­ly ele­gant tran­sit solu­tion attract­ed the ire of pow­er­ful inter­ests that find pub­lic tran­sit dis­taste­ful. Spurred on by the Koch broth­ers’ influ­en­tial polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­i­ty, Ten­nessee’s state leg­is­la­ture has suc­ceed­ed in pass­ing an extra­or­di­nary new law that actu­al­ly bans BRT.

    That’s specif­i­cal­ly what the lan­guage of the law says; it specif­i­cal­ly pre­vents the “con­struct­ing, main­tain­ing, or oper­at­ing any bus rapid tran­sit sys­tem” in the state of Ten­nessee, unless specif­i­cal­ly approved by leg­is­la­tion and the tran­sit com­mis­sion­er. It also requires that if “any state agency pro­pos­es to assist in fund­ing the project with state or fed­er­al-aid funds or oth­er­wise requests such funds for the project, then the project must also be approved by the gen­er­al assem­bly.” In oth­er words, if any city wants fed­er­al fund­ing for a local tran­sit project, it must be approved by the state leg­is­la­ture. That makes it next to impos­si­ble to pass. This blows any of Uber’s reg­u­la­to­ry set­backs out of the water; any­one frus­trat­ed at gov­ern­ment pro­hi­bi­tion of ride-shar­ing should be out­raged about this. It is, essen­tial­ly, a law that makes a use­ful tran­sit tech­nol­o­gy ille­gal.

    Wired calls the leg­is­la­tion “mind-bog­gling,” which it is, and “strange­ly spe­cif­ic,” which it’s less so—because it’s exact­ly the lan­guage that AFP want­ed placed into the bill. Alex Pareene points to the Ten­nessean, which explains how the anti-BRT law was first born: “StopAmp.org Inc., the lead­ing oppo­si­tion group, thanked AFP in a news release ... and Andrew Ogles, AFP’s state direc­tor, said that the group didn’t back the effort finan­cial­ly but that the bill grew out of a con­ver­sa­tion he had had with Sen. Jim Tra­cy, the spon­sor.”

    This is politi­co-speak for ‘the advo­ca­cy group asked a leg­is­la­tor to draft a law that would ban BRT and so he did’. ‘Why’ is anoth­er ques­tion alto­geth­er. Why would AFP both­er? The short answer is: polit­i­cal activism. The Kochs and their orga­ni­za­tion, like many promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive groups and pun­dits, are ide­o­log­i­cal­ly opposed to pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Mass tran­sit projects require gov­ern­ment revenue—Amp was going to be made pos­si­ble with help from fed­er­al funding—and mild­ly incon­ve­nience dri­vers who share roads with them.

    Still, why would a nation­wide polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion get involved in a sin­gle munic­i­pal­i­ty’s pro­posed bus line?

    “With super­ma­jori­ties in both hous­es,” [Ogles] said, accord­ing to the Ten­nessean, “Ten­nessee is a great state to pass mod­el leg­is­la­tion that can be lever­aged in oth­er states.”

    AFP is hop­ing to export this law to oth­er states that are either aspir­ing to this afford­able, hybrid brand of mass tran­sit, or that already have it. That’s why there was such a unique­ly vehe­ment move­ment to halt the BRT, why StopAmp.org lob­bied so hard, built an eye­sore of a web­site, and even com­mis­sioned a coun­try-west­ern protest song. Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Kansas—two con­ser­v­a­tive states cur­rent­ly run­ning BRTs—may want to brace them­selves.

    It’s cas­es like this that help paint the Koch broth­ers as vil­lain­ous tycoons in the pop­u­lar con­cep­tion. Though David and Charles Koch are almost cer­tain­ly not micro-man­ag­ing this par­tic­u­lar effort out of some all-con­sum­ing hatred for mass tran­sit, their ide­ol­o­gy is ulti­mate­ly the ani­mat­ing force behind the grass­roots efforts they finance. And there’s no doubt that part of their pre­ferred agen­da is derail­ing tran­sit. The AFP has pre­vi­ous­ly cam­paigned to kill mass tran­sit projects in oth­er states. The Rea­son Foun­da­tion, anoth­er group sup­port­ed by the Koch Broth­ers, lob­bied Flori­da gov­er­nor Rick Scott to kill the state’s incom­ing high speed rail project. He did.

    ...

    This, it bears remind­ing, is the new nor­mal. Polit­i­cal sci­en­tists say our gov­ern­ment now resem­bles not democ­ra­cy, but ‘eco­nom­ic elite dom­i­na­tion’. So it should­n’t be too sur­pris­ing that bil­lion­aires can influ­ence the can­ce­la­tion of a bus line in a city halfway across the country—and over­ride the pop­u­lar opin­ion that the BRT should go for­ward.

    ...

    “Though David and Charles Koch are almost cer­tain­ly not micro-man­ag­ing this par­tic­u­lar effort out of some all-con­sum­ing hatred for mass tran­sit, their ide­ol­o­gy is ulti­mate­ly the ani­mat­ing force behind the grass­roots efforts they finance.” Indeed.

    And as one can see, it’s not a ‘pet project’ in terms of the Koch Broth­er’s spend­ing their own per­son­al time on it. They have far too many projects for that kind of focus. No, it’s the kind of ‘pet project’ that a bil­lion­aire with far too much mon­ey and a large num­ber of human ‘pets’ might decide to under­take once they’ve turned soci­ety into their per­son­al play­thing. It’s the kind of ‘pet project’ where you are the pet. FYI, no pee­ing on the rug. Your own­ers reserve that priv­i­lege for them­selves.

    So if democ­ra­cy has ever felt like an Ani­mal Farm, get ready for the post-democ­ra­cy Abu­sive Pup­py Mill. Don’t both­er suck­ing up by try­ing to become a well-trained pet if you think that will get you bet­ter treat­ment. The “Stu­pid Pet Tricks” they have in mind aren’t like­ly to be Humane Soci­ety approved.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 18, 2014, 1:43 pm
  31. What? You mean mak­ing the rich rich­er does­n’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly fix the econ­o­my? How odd and unex­pect­ed:

    Bloomberg
    Wealth Effect Fail­ing to Move Wealthy to Spend
    By Simon Kennedy Apr 17, 2014 6:00 PM CT

    The wealth effect isn’t what it once was for the U.S. econ­o­my.

    While the wealth of Amer­i­can house­holds has jumped more than $25 tril­lion since ear­ly 2009 amid ris­ing equi­ty and home prices, the pass-through to con­sumer spend­ing is lag­ging the $1 tril­lion fil­lip that would have been antic­i­pat­ed his­tor­i­cal­ly, accord­ing to Michael Fer­oli, chief U.S. econ­o­mist at JPMor­gan Chase & Co. in New York.

    This means con­sumer spend­ing has been excep­tion­al­ly weak once wealth is account­ed for, he said. With wealth gains now mod­er­at­ing, con­sumer spend­ing could revert to what is already a weak trend, Fer­oli said in an April 11 report.

    His cal­cu­la­tions show that since the reces­sion end­ed in 2009, house­holds have spent 1.7 cents of every extra $1 earned in wealth. That’s less than half the 3.8‑cent aver­age implied by data between 1952 and 2009, sug­gest­ing the trend for con­sumer spend­ing gains over the past three years has been less than 1 per­cent once the wealth effect is stripped out.

    One rea­son for the adjust­ment may be that those enjoy­ing gains in wealth are already rich, so have less propen­si­ty to increase spend­ing incre­men­tal­ly. With­draw­ing equi­ty from homes has also been neg­a­tive for five years.

    The good news is that income expec­ta­tions are start­ing to pick up, which should encour­age the spend­ing accel­er­a­tion that greater wealth failed to spark, said Fer­oli, a for­mer econ­o­mist at the Fed­er­al Reserve Board.

    ...

    The U.S. econ­o­my may need peo­ple more to give up work if it is going to get stronger.

    A rise in retire­ments would be a pos­i­tive for the econ­o­my because it should help boost con­sump­tion and hous­ing in the near term, accord­ing to Drew Matus, deputy U.S. chief econ­o­mist at UBS AG in Stam­ford, Con­necti­cut.

    As net wealth is increased by ris­ing equi­ty prices, the pick­up in retire­ments has led to a decline in unem­ploy­ment rates for work­ers age 25 to 34 as they fill slots left by baby boomers leav­ing the labor mar­ket.

    To Matus, this should mean an increase in house­hold for­ma­tion as young work­ers have the con­fi­dence to set up homes. It should also reduce the labor force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate — which mea­sures the share of work­ing-age peo­ple hold­ing a job or seek­ing one – and there­fore unem­ploy­ment.

    Giv­en that younger work­ers have low sav­ings rates rel­a­tive to work­ers near­ing retire­ment, the shift should also reduce sav­ings and boost con­sump­tion, Matus said.

    That’s a fun pair of find­ings: Giv­ing mon­ey to the already rich does­n’t stim­u­late the econ­o­my because the “wealth effect” (of peo­ple spend­ing more when the assets they own go up in val­ue) just does­n’t have the impact it used to have because the already-wealthy are the pri­ma­ry ben­e­fi­cia­ries. At the same time, ris­ing equi­ty prices might help the econ­o­my because it allows more peo­ple to retire, open­ing up jobs for younger work­ers and poten­tial­ly stim­u­lat­ing the econ­o­my by giv­ing the next gen­er­a­tion a chance at a job where one could fea­si­bly start a fam­i­ly and maybe buy a home.

    So the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth in the US econ­o­my is so dis­tort­ed these days that the ben­e­fits to trick­le-down poli­cies comes not from job cre­ation but from job replace­ments that are cur­rent­ly being held back by the elder­ly not hav­ing enough sav­ings to retire. Peo­ple retir­ing is the US’s eco­nom­ic growth engine! Weird. It’s almost as if allow­ing the old to relax and the young to move for­ward with their lives makes sound eco­nom­ic sense in addi­tion to just being the right thing to do. Maybe there’s a les­son or two here....

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 21, 2014, 2:10 pm
  32. Here’s a reminder that the finan­cial indus­try does­n’t just dehu­man­ize the rest of us. It dehu­man­izes itself:

    Bloomberg
    Young Bankers Fed Up With 90-Hour Weeks Move to Star­tups
    By Dawn Kopec­ki May 8, 2014 11:01 PM CT

    It was a Fri­day in the fall of 2004 and Umber Ahmad had been invit­ed to read a poem at the wed­ding of one of her clos­est friends. She was plan­ning to catch a 7 p.m. flight from New York to Toron­to when a vice pres­i­dent at Mor­gan Stan­ley called her in. The client in a big merg­er deal need­ed work done over the week­end. A merg­ers and acqui­si­tions spe­cial­ist, Ahmad had no choice. She can­celed the flight and start­ed revis­ing her analy­sis of the deal, Bloomberg Mar­kets mag­a­zine will report in its June issue.

    The missed wed­ding was just one of dozens of din­ners, fam­i­ly get-togeth­ers and oth­er events that Ahmad did not attend as she worked 70- and 80-hour weeks as a young asso­ciate at Mor­gan Stan­ley and lat­er as a vice pres­i­dent at Gold­man Sachs Group Inc. (GS) Ahmad, the Michi­gan-born daugh­ter of a Pak­istani doc­tor who taught at Har­vard Med­ical School, likens the long hours and all-nighters to serv­ing in the army.

    “The mil­i­tary will show you that sleep depri­va­tion is a form of tor­ture,” she says. “Not being able to get reg­u­lar sleep is a detri­ment to your life, to your health.”

    Her life revolved around her job, she says. She dat­ed anoth­er banker. Many of her friends were — and still are — bankers because they under­stood last-minute can­cel­la­tions and upset vaca­tion plans.

    “You always remain close to the peo­ple you’ve gone to war with,” she says. “It’s a lot of mis­ery they can under­stand.”

    Ahmad says she loved her job, as exhaust­ing as it was. “It was excit­ing; it was drink­ing from a fire hose every day,” she says.

    Stress Relief

    She left Gold­man in 2007 to start her own invest­ment firm. She didn’t for­get that in her rare leisure hours at the banks, she used bak­ing to help ease the stress. So, in 2013, Ahmad found­ed Mah-Ze-Dahr Bak­ery, a New York–based lux­u­ry pas­try com­pa­ny launched with celebri­ty chef Tom Col­ic­chio. She is also a man­ag­ing direc­tor at New York invest­ment firm Spe­cial­ized Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment & Advi­so­ry.

    For Ahmad, bank­ing was a spring­board to her new life as an entre­pre­neur.

    “As hard as it was and as try­ing as it was and as sleep­less as it was, it also afford­ed me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be where I am today,” she says.

    Some of the best and bright­est of Wall Street’s young invest­ment bankers are bail­ing out of their high-pay­ing, pres­ti­gious jobs at big finan­cial insti­tu­tions. Many are set­ting up their own busi­ness­es, espe­cial­ly in tech­nol­o­gy. While there are no pre­cise sta­tis­tics on the trend, data from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau show that the num­ber of employ­ees aged 25 to 34 in the New York met­ro­pol­i­tan area in finance and insur­ance fell to 109,187 as of the sec­ond quar­ter of 2013, down 19 per­cent from the sec­ond quar­ter of 2007.

    Pres­tige and Rich­es

    For­go­ing a per­son­al life has long been con­sid­ered a fair exchange for the pres­tige and rich­es that can be earned in invest­ment bank­ing and trad­ing. Com­pe­ti­tion remains intense for the cov­et­ed two-year bank train­ing pro­grams that pay grad­u­ates and new MBAs from $100,000 to $300,000 a year.

    That tal­ent­ed young peo­ple are ques­tion­ing these trade-offs doesn’t sur­prise Patrick Cur­tis, who worked as an ana­lyst for two years at bou­tique invest­ment bank­ing firm Roth­schild Inc. a decade ago.

    “It’s def­i­nite­ly not worth the mon­ey,” says Cur­tis, 34, who now runs a career advice and net­work­ing web­site called WallStreetOasis.com. “You’re work­ing 90 hours a week on aver­age. It can go up to 120 when it’s real­ly bad. Is it worth it? No.

    Stu­dent Dropouts

    At elite uni­ver­si­ties, few­er MBA and finance can­di­dates are will­ing to even con­sid­er a life of missed wed­dings, bust­ed romances and deep-into-the-night deal nego­ti­a­tions. The per­cent­age of Har­vard Busi­ness School grad­u­ates enter­ing invest­ment bank­ing, sales or trad­ing dropped to 5 per­cent last year from 12 per­cent in 2006, while those enter­ing tech­nol­o­gy almost tripled to 18 per­cent dur­ing that peri­od.

    At the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pennsylvania’s Whar­ton School, the per­cent­age of MBAs enter­ing invest­ment bank­ing dropped to 13.3 per­cent last year from 26 per­cent in 2006, while those enter­ing tech more than dou­bled to 11.1 per­cent.

    “There’s less will­ing­ness on the stu­dents’ part to make the sac­ri­fices that they might have been will­ing to make five years ago, 10 years ago,” says Jonathan Shep­herd, asso­ciate direc­tor of the MBA career and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment office at the Har­vard Busi­ness School and a for­mer ana­lyst at JPMor­gan Chase & Co. (JPM)

    Banks are acute­ly aware of the too-high attri­tion rate among their young asso­ciates and ana­lysts — the titles car­ried by most junior bankers — and have ini­ti­at­ed pro­grams to com­bat it. Gold­man Sachs and JPMor­gan, among oth­ers, are rethink­ing the way deals are brought to fruition.

    ’War for Tal­ent’

    “There’s a war for tal­ent,” says Jeff Urwin, who was pro­mot­ed in April to co-run cor­po­rate and invest­ment bank­ing at JPMor­gan. “You’ve got to com­pete.”

    One result is guar­an­teed days off to keep young employ­ees from burn­ing out. The banks are focus­ing atten­tion on their M&A groups, where sev­en-day, 80-hour work­weeks are the norm and the hours can run around the clock in a big deal like Com­cast Corp.’s $45.2 bil­lion offer to buy Time Warn­er Cable Inc. The banks involved: JPMor­gan and Mor­gan Stan­ley.

    Last August, Bank of Amer­i­ca Corp. intern Moritz Erhardt, who worked in the firm’s Lon­don office, died fol­low­ing round-the-clock work on a merg­er. Though the offi­cial cause of death was an epilep­tic seizure, Mary Has­sell, the coro­ner who inves­ti­gat­ed the death, said his fatigue may have trig­gered the con­vul­sion that killed him. The 21-year-old banker was found dead in the show­er at Claredale House, a stu­dent res­i­den­tial facil­i­ty in East Lon­don.

    Lon­don Death

    “Moritz had a nat­ur­al cause of death, though it’s not so nat­ur­al that a young man should die like this,” Has­sell said dur­ing a for­mal inquiry in Novem­ber.

    Bank of Amer­i­ca said at the time that it would “review all aspects of this tragedy.” In Jan­u­ary, the bank issued new guide­lines say­ing that man­agers would “close­ly mon­i­tor work vol­ume” among junior bankers and sum­mer asso­ciates. The pol­i­cy also rec­om­mends that ana­lysts and asso­ciates take off four week­end days a month and requires that they take all their vaca­tion days.

    Erhardt’s death raised a more gen­er­al alarm among bank exec­u­tives.

    “I’m not sure how you stop work if there’s a deal on,” Mor­gan Stan­ley Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer James Gor­man told Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion in Jan­u­ary. Yet the inci­dent in Lon­don, he added, “has caused every­one to step back and say, ‘Hey, have we got this right?’”

    Man­agers at JPMor­gan, which employs 1,000 men and women as asso­ciates and ana­lysts world­wide, track their hours on a col­or-cod­ed spread­sheet. Bankers who spend more than 75 hours in the office per week are marked in red; those who work few­er hours are brand­ed blue or yel­low.

    Urwin stud­ies the charts every week. He isn’t look­ing to see who’s not work­ing enough. He’s look­ing to see who’s work­ing too much.

    “There are only two things you con­trol in invest­ment bank­ing man­age­ment: how you use finan­cial cap­i­tal and how you use human cap­i­tal,” Urwin says.

    Junior bankers who keep light­ing up red, and the peo­ple who man­age them, typ­i­cal­ly get a call from Urwin to find out what they are work­ing on and if the hours are jus­ti­fied. If not, the man­ag­er request­ing the work may get a warn­ing.

    Gold­man Ini­tia­tives

    Both JPMor­gan and Gold­man Sachs have formed in-house com­mit­tees designed to improve the expe­ri­ence of their junior bankers. At Gold­man, the result­ing changes includ­ed the for­ma­tion of a junior banker career devel­op­ment com­mit­tee, sev­er­al of whose rec­om­men­da­tions the firm has adopt­ed. One change: Gold­man did away with its two-year train­ing pro­gram in 2012 in favor of hir­ing new grad­u­ates on a per­ma­nent basis.

    In an effort to reduce young bankers’ work­loads, Gold­man changed the way senior man­agers com­mis­sion work so junior bankers don’t have to cre­ate a 50-page pre­sen­ta­tion for a client when a 15-page report would suf­fice. In Octo­ber, Gold­man began requir­ing entry-lev­el bankers and slight­ly more-senior asso­ciates in the invest­ment-bank­ing divi­sion to take Sat­ur­days off.

    Cur­tis of Wall Street Oasis laughs at the idea that forc­ing bankers to take a few week­end days off will resolve the over­work issue.

    “It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly low­er­ing the over­all hours ana­lysts are work­ing,” he says. “It’s shift­ing it to Sun­day nights and dur­ing the week. So they’re get­ting more all-nighters dur­ing the week.”

    Bank Self-Inter­est

    Kevin Roose spent three years fol­low­ing the careers of eight young bankers for his book “Young Mon­ey: Inside the Hid­den World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits” (Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing, 2014). He says it’s good that the banks are tak­ing bet­ter care of their junior bankers.

    “But this is not a char­i­ta­ble act,” Roose says. “They’re los­ing a lot of their young peo­ple and they’re hav­ing a lot of trou­ble recruit­ing, so these banks are pan­ick­ing about how to keep hold of the next gen­er­a­tion.”

    In the high-pres­sure envi­ron­ment of an invest­ment bank, the typ­i­cal pro­fes­sion­al stays on the job between sev­en and nine years before chang­ing careers or leav­ing for oth­er areas of finance, accord­ing to a study that will be pub­lished this sum­mer by Alexan­dra Michel, who start­ed her career as a junior banker at Gold­man Sachs in 1992 and now teach­es man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia.

    Michel, who has a Ph.D. in man­age­ment from the Whar­ton School, has spent the past 13 years study­ing the work­ing con­di­tions of invest­ment bankers. She has found that the long hours and stress begin tak­ing their toll after four years.

    ‘Chron­ic Pain’

    “On year four, phys­i­cal break­downs occur, ini­tial­ly minor,” she says. “Chron­ic pain, insom­nia, endocrine dis­or­ders set in. Pain is real­ly com­mon.” Weight gain, hair loss, anx­i­ety, depres­sion and gen­er­al­ized low ener­gy are also com­mon com­plaints, Michel says.

    When severe stress kicks in, the young bankers are often able to per­form at a high lev­el only with the help of high-caf­feine drinks, pre­scrip­tion stim­u­lants and sleep­ing pills, she says.

    “It’s what­ev­er it takes to keep func­tion­ing,” Michel says. “So if you have to work around the clock, you take the chem­i­cals you need to still be sharp and awake, and if you can’t sleep because you’re so depressed and stressed, you take a dif­fer­ent set of pills.”

    Michel is skep­ti­cal of the new pro­grams to relieve young bankers’ pain.

    ‘Noth­ing Has Changed’

    “As one set of deplet­ed bankers leaves, the next is already mov­ing through the door,” she says. “It isn’t bad for bank­ing in the least, and that’s why noth­ing has changed.”

    Exec­u­tives can be less inter­est­ed in their young assis­tants’ health than they are in get­ting a deal done, for­mer junior bankers say. One recalls work­ing on a deal through a nasty sinus infec­tion. When the banker resist­ed fly­ing out of town to meet with the client, the man­ag­ing direc­tors said it was manda­to­ry.

    The pres­sure from the flight rup­tured the banker’s eardrum, which start­ed bleed­ing. The team pushed on with the deal talks despite the fact that the banker had lost hear­ing in one ear. Upon return­ing to New York, the banker went straight to the emer­gency room, where doc­tors ordered no fly­ing for the next five months, pre­vent­ing the banker from attend­ing future client meet­ings on cru­cial deals.

    For­mer junior bankers say they quick­ly learned how to make do on four to five hours of sleep a night, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the finan­cial melt­down in 2008 to 2009.

    24-Hour Work­day

    Hamil­ton Col­well start­ed as a junior banker at JPMorgan’s struc­tured-for­eign-exchange desk in 2006, when he was 27. His spe­cial­ty was help­ing clients man­age risk through inter­est-rate deriv­a­tives. His skills were in high demand both before and dur­ing the cri­sis. In 2008 and ear­ly 2009, Col­well often worked day and night, he says, return­ing home only to show­er and change.

    In deal­ing with friends and fam­i­ly, “I learned quick­ly not to make promis­es I couldn’t keep,” Col­well says. He had a girl­friend. “Week­ends away and din­ners out with her were always sac­ri­ficed,” he says. “It quick­ly became nor­mal.” The two even­tu­al­ly broke up.

    After Lehman Broth­ers Hold­ings Inc. col­lapsed, the crush of work made Col­well, now 36, real­ize he couldn’t stay in bank­ing. Even after the mar­kets calmed, Col­well was still work­ing 13 hours a day dur­ing the week and often on week­ends. He says for a while it was invig­o­rat­ing. That fad­ed.

    ...

    Work-Life Bal­ance

    Tay­lor Rus­sell, who’s pur­su­ing a master’s degree in finance at Prince­ton, was recruit­ed by some top invest­ment banks. He con­sid­ered them, but end­ed up reject­ing the deal­mak­ers in favor of asset man­ag­er Black­Rock Inc. (BLK) for his intern­ship.

    “Work-life bal­ance is impor­tant, and that was a big part of my deci­sion-mak­ing process,” says Rus­sell, 25, who spent three years teach­ing high school math and coach­ing swim­ming before enter­ing Prince­ton. While the banks have their own in-house asset man­age­ment divi­sions, Rus­sell says he liked the more relaxed cul­ture at Black­Rock and thought he could have greater impact man­ag­ing risk for indi­vid­ual investors.

    “Hav­ing a place where my per­son­al­i­ty fits in is more impor­tant than hav­ing a big­ger bonus at the end of the year,” says Rus­sell, who has an applied math degree from Brown Uni­ver­si­ty. “Either way, I’ll be mak­ing a good liv­ing.”

    No Thanks, Banks

    Russell’s Prince­ton class­mate Karen Leiton was recruit­ed by Gold­man Sachs, JPMor­gan, Cit­i­group Inc. and hedge fund Bridge­wa­ter Asso­ciates LP, then chose an intern­ship at the World Bank, where she will make about a third of the com­pen­sa­tion. The 26-year-old Colom­bian worked for Ban­co de la Repub­li­ca, her home country’s cen­tral bank, from 2009 through 2013.

    Leiton, who has an under­grad­u­ate degree in inter­na­tion­al finance, says, “Work­ing in the mar­kets is very excit­ing for some peo­ple, but peo­ple that work in the gov­ern­ment aren’t there for the mon­ey. They are there because they can have an impact in the long term.”

    Col­well, the yogurt mak­er, says his gru­el­ing sched­ule at JPMor­gan helped pre­pare him for life as an entre­pre­neur.

    “My work is much, much more dif­fi­cult now,” says Col­well, whose yogurt com­pa­ny uses only local­ly sourced milk from grass-fed cows in rur­al Penn­syl­va­nia. Yet there’s a big dif­fer­ence between being the first employ­ee of a new com­pa­ny ver­sus just one of JPMorgan’s army of 250,000, he says.

    As pun­ish­ing as her jobs in finance were, Ahmad, the banker turned bak­er, has no regrets.

    “We active­ly chose to be bankers; we active­ly chose to live that lifestyle,” she says. “I couldn’t have learned what I learned at any oth­er job. It’s an accel­er­at­ed edu­ca­tion.”

    While it’s great to see peo­ple ditch the tor­tur­ous lifestyles described above, the “I have no regrets, look at all the great stuff I learned!” sen­ti­ment expressed that the end was rather dis­turb­ing. But beyond that, part of what makes the over­all pic­ture so dis­turb­ing is that it’s basi­cal­ly describ­ing a sys­tem that sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly enrich­es and empow­ers peo­ple while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly destroy­ing their minds and bod­ies.

    The sys­tem described above (with 90–120 hour work­weeks) is so insane and dis­gust­ing that even if the sys­tem improves (which may or may not hap­pen), it’s still going to guar­an­teed destroyed minds and bod­ies unless the improve­ment is dra­mat­ic. And it’s a pat­tern that extends far beyond invest­ment bank­ing. If you think about it, any self-respect­ing democ­ra­cy requires a pop­u­lace that knows a lot about a lot, espe­cial­ly about the major issues impact­ing oth­er peo­ple’s lives too. That’s how democ­ra­cy is sup­posed to work! It real­ly does require empa­thy and informed con­sent to func­tion and that requires infor­ma­tion! Just read­ing the news and learn­ing about the world isn’t just a lux­u­ry, it’s a require­ment unless you want your democ­ra­cy to descend into a work-induced idioc­ra­cy.

    And while it’s not hard to imag­ine that the oli­garchs, them­selves, would LOVE to see a pop­u­lace that’s so busy it sim­ply does­n’t have time to learn about the world, what this arti­cle appears to be describ­ing is a cul­ture where even the up and com­ing junior oli­garchs are sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly starv­ing them­selves of the time required to be well-informed oli­garchs decades from now. And all that sleep-depri­va­tion and the focus on “mak­ing it” described above is like a slow-motion lobot­o­my. What does that do to the brains of these future lead­ers after decades of that kind of lifestyle whether it’s a bank or their own start up?

    It rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not the intense com­pe­ti­tion to get to ‘the top’ is ensur­ing that who­ev­er gets there can’t be ade­quate­ly informed about the world out­side their area of exper­tise. Sure, it’s long been assumed that cer­tain per­son­al­i­ty types are going to be drawn towards indus­tries that reward them with extreme wealth and pow­er. But the sce­nar­ios described above don’t just describe the super-high achiev­er types that are always going for that brass ring. It describes a sys­tem that takes a group of peo­ple like that and phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly tor­tures them while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly forc­ing unhealthy focus on ONLY one thing in life: their work. And then they go off to be com­mu­ni­ty and busi­ness lead­ers. Is that wise?

    On top of that, it’s very unclear that, even when they leave bank­ing, these ex-bankers real­ly do end the focus on “work work work”. If you drop from a 90 hour work week as an invest­ment banker to an 70 hour work­week at your new start up com­pa­ny, isn’t that extra 20 going to be going towards sleep­ing? It should. And isn’t that lifestyle still prob­a­bly going to be wild­ly out of bal­ance?

    In a larg­er sense, why isn’t the US’s cul­ture of insane work hours that restrict your life to a hand­ful of focus­es seen as a plan to ush­er the anti-Enlight­en­ment? Can you be a Renais­sance man or woman when the time to do so is sim­ply unavail­able? And how can democ­ra­cy avoid becom­ing a joke idioc­ra­cy unless we have poli­cies and a social con­tract that nur­tures and val­ues the devel­op­ment of Renais­sance men and women? Is there any way democ­ra­cy can pos­si­bly func­tion ade­quate­ly with­out the peo­ple across the socioe­co­nom­ic spec­trum being guar­an­teed the time to con­tin­u­al­ly learn new skills and new knowl­edge? How is rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy sup­posed to work oth­er­wise? Do we just let 30-sec­ond cam­paign ads replace the process of con­tin­u­ous learn­ing?

    And if it isn’t pos­si­ble to have a “work work work” lifestyle with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the “learn learn learn about things not direct­ly relat­ed to me”-requirement for your soci­ety to func­tion, isn’t the kind of work-eth­ic described above incom­pat­i­ble with democ­ra­cy, whether it’s tak­ing place at an invest­ment bank or a start up? Unless Ayn was right all along, the decent soci­ety that can emerge from empa­thy-dri­ven demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nance can’t real­ly hap­pen unless peo­ple have time to focus on things out­side their per­son­al life. It’s just not pos­si­ble.

    So if the “work/life” bal­ance is real­ly a “work/life/democracy” bal­ance, it seems like it’s more than just invest­ment bankers that need to be reex­am­in­ing their employ­ment con­tracts. Our social con­tract might need it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 9, 2014, 11:12 am
  33. Here’s a great exam­ple of why Thomas Pick­et­ty is prob­a­bly going to be a very busy man for a very long time:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    The US Cham­ber of Com­merce is full of shit for claim­ing that high CEO-to-work­er pay ratios don’t mat­ter

    By David Holmes
    On June 3, 2014

    It’s a damned good time to be a CEO in Amer­i­ca.

    Despite the fact that US econ­o­my is shrink­ing, medi­an CEO pay rose for the fourth straight year, top­ping out at $10.5 mil­lion. Ana­lysts attribute this to a shift in recent years in how cor­po­rate com­pen­sa­tion is cal­cu­lat­ed, with boards reward­ing CEOs for boost­ing a company’s stock.

    And why shouldn’t they? Bet­ter to tie a CEO’s pay to a company’s suc­cess than to hand out exor­bi­tant salaries mere­ly to keep up with your rivals, right? That strat­e­gy of one­ups­man­ship was how CEO com­pen­sa­tion had been han­dled for many years, Steve Sil­ber­stein of UC-Berke­ley tells Pan­do. “Nobody wants to have a CEO that’s [paid] below aver­age. So as one person’s pay goes up, everybody’s pay goes up. It’s kind of a club.”

    The trou­ble is, despite record cor­po­rate prof­its and the low­est effec­tive tax rates in decades, few­er and few­er of those earn­ings are being passed on to non-exec­u­tive employ­ees – in fact, employ­er-paid com­pen­sa­tion is at its low­est rate since 1948. This inequal­i­ty is per­haps best sym­bol­ized in the minds of the pub­lic by America’s out-of-con­trol CEO-to-medi­an-employ­ee pay ratios. In 2012, CEOs made a whop­ping 273 times more on aver­age than their work­ers. Com­pare that to the 1960s when CEOs only made about 20 times more.

    On paper, these high-paid CEOs may “earn their keep,” but if those prof­its are applied dis­pro­por­tion­al­ly to the high­est earn­ers, it hurts the pur­chas­ing pow­er of the aver­age con­sumer, “con­tribut­ing to the slow­est [eco­nom­ic] recov­ery on record” accord­ing to for­mer US Sec­re­tary of Labor Robert Reich. Fur­ther­more, many experts ques­tion the effi­ca­cy of incen­tive-based CEO com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages, while busi­ness school pro­fes­sors over­whelm­ing­ly agree that per­for­mance suf­fers the more a CEO is paid.

    That’s why CEO-to-employ­ee-pay ratios have become such a hot-but­ton issue for those trou­bled by increas­ing income equal­i­ty, which, con­sid­er­ing we live at a time when a 700-page book on the country’s wealth gap can shoot to the top of Amazon’s best­seller list, appears to be a con­cern shared by many Amer­i­cans.

    ...

    “Nobody wants to have a CEO that’s [paid] below aver­age. So as one person’s pay goes up, everybody’s pay goes up. It’s kind of a club.” That’s right, as one person’s pay goes up (at the top), everybody’s pay goes up (at the top). The bot­tom? They get rais­es too. Spe­cial rais­es. The kind of rais­es the gov­ern­ment pays in stamps.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 3, 2014, 6:38 pm
  34. When the roman­tic affairs by elect­ed offi­cials are exposed, more often than not it just becomes a per­son­al train­wreck that haunts the indi­vid­u­als involved. Under worst case sce­nar­ios it might trig­ger a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. But every once in a while, the romat­ic affair morphs into an episode of polit­i­cal “kiss and tell”. That’s when the sit­u­a­tion might go ‘meta’ in help­ful ways:

    TPM Livewire
    GOP Rep. Acknowl­edges That Mem­bers Expect Dona­tions For Votes

    Caitlin Mac­Neal – June 9, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT

    Rep. Vance McAl­lis­ter (R‑LA) open­ly acknowl­edged on Thurs­day that mem­bers of Con­gress expect to receive cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions for vot­ing a cer­tain way on bills.

    Dur­ing an event with the North­east Chap­ter of Louisiana CPAs, the con­gress­man shared an anec­dote that illus­trat­ed how “mon­ey con­trols Wash­ing­ton,” accord­ing to the Oua­chi­ta Cit­i­zen. He said that many approach their work in D.C. as a “steady cycle of vot­ing for fundrais­ing and mon­ey instead of vot­ing for what is right.”

    McAl­lis­ter dis­cussed a bill relat­ed to the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, which he vot­ed against. McAl­lis­ter told the crowd that an unnamed col­league told him on the House floor that if he vot­ed “no” on the bill, he would receive a con­tri­bu­tion from Her­itage, a con­ser­v­a­tive think tank.

    “I played dumb and asked him, ‘How would you vote?’” McAl­lis­ter said. “He told me, ‘Vote no and you will get a $1,200 check from the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. If you vote yes, you will get a $1,000 check from some envi­ron­men­tal impact group.’”

    Her­itage Foun­da­tion, an edu­ca­tion­al non­prof­it, is barred from con­tribut­ing direct­ly to can­di­dates. Its sis­ter polit­i­cal action orga­ni­za­tion, Her­itage Action, how­ev­er, is allowed to do so.

    McAl­lis­ter did not receive a con­tri­bu­tion, but his col­league did, the con­gress­man said.

    McAl­lis­ter said he was­n’t sur­prised he did­n’t get a check, as Louisiana Gov. Bob­by Jin­dal and Her­itage are “upset” with him. The con­gress­man was caught kiss­ing one of his staffers, and has since decid­ed not to run for re-elec­tion in 2014.

    “They are always try­ing to throw bul­lets at me,” McAl­lis­ter said of Jin­dal and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “Once I told my friend about Gov. Jin­dal being mad at me, he said, ‘Well, that’s why you didn’t get a check.’”

    ...

    If you’re sur­prised that a con­gress­man would decribe the way the ol’ DC ‘free speech’-spigot works in such stark terms, keep in mind that McAl­lis­ter just came into pol­i­tics and office late last year, so he’s new at this:

    The Adver­tis­er
    McAl­lis­ter: Com­ments were tak­en ‘out of con­text’
    Greg Hilburn, Louisiana 4:23 p.m. CDT June 8, 2014

    Fifth Dis­trict U.S. Rep. Vance McAl­lis­ter said a pub­lished report say­ing the con­gress­man told a group of CPAs he cast a vote in antic­i­pa­tion of a cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion “was tak­en com­plete­ly out of con­text.”

    The report said McAl­lis­ter, R‑Swartz, told the North­east Chap­ter of Louisiana CPAs an uniden­ti­fied col­league on the House floor told him he would receive a $1,200 con­tri­bu­tion from the Her­itage Foun­da­tion if he vot­ed against uniden­ti­fied leg­is­la­tion relat­ed to the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment.

    McAl­lis­ter was quot­ed as say­ing he vot­ed no but nev­er received a check.

    “I have nev­er cast a vote with the expec­ta­tion or antic­i­pa­tion of receiv­ing any mon­ey for a vote,” McAl­lis­ter told Gan­nett Louisiana. “I was just try­ing to illus­trate how much mon­ey con­trols Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and the reporter took the com­ments total­ly out of con­text.”

    McAl­lis­ter is a fresh­man con­gress­man who ear­li­er this year became embroiled in a scan­dal after a video was pub­lished of him kiss­ing a mar­ried staffer. McAl­lis­ter said he wouldn’t run for re-elec­tion, but has since left open the pos­si­bil­i­ty of run­ning again.

    ...

    No, rep­re­sen­ta­tive McAl­lis­ter was­n’t talk­ing about explic­it bribery. He was just illus­trat­ing the implicite bribery built into the sys­tem. No scan­dal at all! You have to won­der how long it would have tak­en McCal­lis­ter to fig­ure out the unwrit­ten rules if no one had tipped him off.

    And since McAl­lis­ter is a Repub­li­can novice that came out of nowhere to beat the estab­lish­men­t’s pre­ferred can­di­date to win a spe­cial elec­tion, and he vot­ed against a Her­itage-backed bill on the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment (as he describes in his anec­dote above), and he sup­ports the expan­sion of Med­ic­aid for his state you also have to won­der about the pos­si­ble moti­va­tions for leak­ing that video in the first place.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 10, 2014, 5:40 pm
  35. And the US set­tles into the New Nor­mal:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    Ken Grif­fin makes a one-day $2.5 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Bruce Rauner

    On June 13, 2014

    Remem­ber Citadel CEO Ken Grif­fin, the Illi­nois finan­cial exec­u­tive whose firm made a big invest­ment in Mar­riott months before Chica­go award­ed the com­pa­ny a big hotel deal? Well he’s back mak­ing big Illi­nois invest­ments. This time, accord­ing to records at the Illi­nois State Board of Elec­tions, it is a stun­ning one-day $2.5 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion that he just made this week to the cam­paign of Illi­nois Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Bruce Rauner, who is also a fel­low finan­cial exec­u­tive. Yes, you read that right: state records show Grif­fin made a $2.5 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion not to a nation­al polit­i­cal par­ty or a Super­PAC, but to a sin­gle can­di­date for a sin­gle state office. Wel­come to the brave new world of Cit­i­zens Unit­ed.

    We should prob­a­bly expect sto­ries like this to become a fre­quent occur­rence. Per­haps even a high­ly fre­quent occur­rence.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 13, 2014, 2:02 pm
  36. There’s a fun idea out there that the incred­i­ble con­cen­tra­tion of mat­ter and ener­gy that formed the big bang was, itself, formed in the mid­dle of a black hole, lead­ing to the intrigu­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty that the entire uni­verse exists inside a black hole. You don’t nor­mal­ly think of black holes as engines of cre­ation, but who knows, maybe they are. Hav­ing said that, some black holes are def­i­nite­ly not engines of cre­ation:

    Bloomberg
    Top 1 Per­cent Is Even Rich­er Than Sur­veys Say, ECB Paper Finds
    By Jean­na Smi­alek Jul 14, 2014 11:00 PM CT

    The oft-cit­ed line that the top 1 per­cent of U.S. house­holds lay claim to 30 per­cent of all wealth is prob­a­bly an under­state­ment, accord­ing to a Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank work­ing paper.

    Incor­po­rat­ing “missed” data on rich house­holds push­es the share of wealth held by top earn­ers up to between 35 per­cent and 37 per­cent, wrote Philip Ver­meulen, a senior econ­o­mist at the ECB. That’s high­er than the 34 per­cent sug­gest­ed by the 2010 U.S. Sur­vey of Con­sumer Finances data from the Fed­er­al Reserve.

    “Our knowl­edge of the wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion is less than per­fect,” Ver­meulen wrote. “The results clear­ly indi­cate that sur­vey wealth esti­mates are very like­ly to under­es­ti­mate wealth at the top.”

    Rich­er house­holds have a low­er response rate to sur­veys mea­sur­ing their assets, so hold­ings are under­val­ued, Ver­meulen wrote. He uses data from Forbes bil­lion­aires lists in his analy­sis to pro­vide new wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion esti­mates for the U.S. and nine Euro­pean nations.

    Though the U.S. change is “mar­gin­al,” the author writes, the effect in the Nether­lands is much larg­er. Incor­po­rat­ing bil­lion­aires list push­es its con­cen­tra­tion at the top to between 12 per­cent and 17 per­cent — close to nations such as Spain and Bel­gium — com­pared to the 9 per­cent con­cen­tra­tion sur­vey data would sug­gest.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 15, 2014, 11:19 am
  37. There’s a sen­ti­ment often shared by the far right and espe­cial­ly folks of the Ran­di­an per­sua­sion that if we just hand­ed over all the polit­i­cal pow­er to the peo­ple with all the mon­ey life would be bet­ter for every­one. If only...:

    The Hill
    Who rules Amer­i­ca?

    By Allan J. Licht­man, con­trib­u­tor
    August 12, 2014, 06:00 am

    “The pub­lic be damned!”
    — William H. Van­der­bilt, rail­road mag­nate, 1882

    A shat­ter­ing new study by two polit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sors has found that ordi­nary Amer­i­cans have vir­tu­al­ly no impact what­so­ev­er on the mak­ing of nation­al pol­i­cy in our coun­try. The ana­lysts found that rich indi­vid­u­als and busi­ness-con­trolled inter­est groups large­ly shape pol­i­cy out­comes in the Unit­ed States.

    This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans who are bypassed by their gov­ern­ment. To reclaim the promise of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy, ordi­nary cit­i­zens must act pos­i­tive­ly to change the rela­tion­ship between the peo­ple and our gov­ern­ment.

    The new study, with the jaw-clench­ing title of “Test­ing The­o­ries of Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics: Elites, Inter­est Groups, and Aver­age Cit­i­zens,” is forth­com­ing in the fall 2014 edi­tion of Per­spec­tives on Pol­i­tics. Its authors, Mar­tin Gilens of Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty and Ben­jamin Page of North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, exam­ined sur­vey data on 1,779 nation­al pol­i­cy issues for which they could gauge the pref­er­ences of aver­age cit­i­zens, eco­nom­ic elites, mass-based inter­est groups and busi­ness-dom­i­nat­ed inter­est groups. They used sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods to deter­mine the influ­ence of each of these four groups on pol­i­cy out­comes, includ­ing both poli­cies that are adopt­ed and reject­ed.

    The ana­lysts found that when con­trol­ling for the pow­er of eco­nom­ic elites and orga­nized inter­est groups, the influ­ence of ordi­nary Amer­i­cans reg­is­ters at a “non-sig­nif­i­cant, near-zero lev­el. The ana­lysts fur­ther dis­cov­ered that rich indi­vid­u­als and busi­ness-dom­i­nat­ed inter­est groups dom­i­nate the pol­i­cy­mak­ing process. The mass-based inter­est groups had min­i­mal influ­ence com­pared to the busi­ness-based inter­est groups.

    The study also debunks the notion that the pol­i­cy pref­er­ences of busi­ness and the rich reflect the views of com­mon cit­i­zens. They found to the con­trary that such pref­er­ences often sharply diverge and when they do, the eco­nom­ic elites and busi­ness inter­ests almost always win and the ordi­nary Amer­i­cans lose.

    The authors also say that giv­en lim­i­ta­tions to tap­ping into the full pow­er elite in Amer­i­ca and their pol­i­cy pref­er­ences, “the real world impact of elites upon pub­lic pol­i­cy may be still greater” than their find­ings indi­cate.

    Ulti­mate­ly, Gilens and Page con­clude from their work, “eco­nom­ic elites and orga­nized groups rep­re­sent­ing busi­ness inter­ests have sub­stan­tial inde­pen­dent impacts on U.S. gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy, while aver­age cit­i­zens and mass-based inter­est groups have lit­tle or no inde­pen­dent influ­ence.

    Rich indi­vid­u­als and busi­ness inter­ests have the capac­i­ty to hire the lob­by­ists that shad­ow leg­is­la­tors in Wash­ing­ton and to fill the cam­paign cof­fers of polit­i­cal can­di­dates. Ordi­nary cit­i­zens are them­selves part­ly to blame, how­ev­er, because they do not choose to vote.

    Amer­i­ca’s turnout rate places us near the bot­tom of indus­tri­al­ized democ­ra­cies. More than 90 mil­lion eli­gi­ble Amer­i­cans did not vote in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of 2012 and more than 120 mil­lion did not vote in the midterm elec­tions of 2010.

    Elec­toral turnout in the Unit­ed States is high­ly cor­re­lat­ed with eco­nom­ic stand­ing: The more afflu­ent Amer­i­cans vote in much high­er pro­por­tion than the less afflu­ent. A study by Ellen Shear­er of the Medill School of Jour­nal­ism at North­west­ern found that 59 per­cent of 2012 vot­ers earned $50,000 or more per year, com­pared to 39 per­cent of non-vot­ers. Only 12 per­cent of non-vot­ers earned more than $75,000, com­pared to 31 per­cent of vot­ers.

    ...

    Well, it’s cer­tain­ly true that non-vot­ers are play­ing a role in this demo­c­ra­t­ic death spi­ral. At least some of them. Hope­ful­ly by doing noth­ing mean­ing­ful to reverse the sit­u­a­tion this will all work out.

    In oth­er news...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 13, 2014, 7:27 am
  38. With racial ten­sions and long stand­ing com­mu­ni­ty griev­ances back in nation’s focus, it’s worth ask­ing the ques­tion, “Why has­n’t Pres­i­dent Oba­ma fixed the prob­lem of race in this coun­try by now?”:

    Hul­la­baloo
    Why has­n’t Pres­i­dent Oba­ma fixed the prob­lem of race in this coun­try?

    by dig­by
    8/18/2014 09:00:00 AM

    The Vil­lage wants to know now.

    In many ways, Obama’s dif­fi­cul­ty in nav­i­gat­ing mat­ters of race as pres­i­dent mir­rors his strug­gles in oth­er areas. He has repeat­ed­ly and elo­quent­ly spo­ken about race — and his expe­ri­ences in mak­ing his way in the world as the son of a white moth­er and a Kenyan father — over the past decade. But those words have done lit­tle to heal the racial wounds in the coun­try. Per­haps it’s too much to expect any one indi­vid­ual, even the pres­i­dent, to help final­ly close such a deep and long-stand­ing gash on the country’s con­science. But such is the his­toric nature of Obama’s pres­i­den­cy that many peo­ple, both white and black, expect him to do just that.

    Today at least, Obama’s vision of a post-racial Amer­i­ca looks even fur­ther away than it did that night a decade ago in Boston.

    Yes, it’s true that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has been unable to solve the race prob­lem in Amer­i­ca and I for one, am sore­ly dis­ap­point­ed in him on that score. It’s right up there with fail­ing to bring world peace and find­ing a cure for male pat­tern bald­ness, nei­ther of which he promised any more than he promised to end the racial divide once and for all. But still ...

    Hon­est­ly, any talk that Fer­gu­son is a sign of pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s per­son­al fail­ure (except, per­haps the extent to which his admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ued the decades long mil­i­ta­riza­tion of police) is tru­ly unfair. There are many things for which one can hold him respon­si­ble, but the fail­ure to end white racism isn’t one of them.

    Ciliz­za points to the 2008 cam­paign for an exam­ple of how he alleged­ly man­aged to end racism for a time with one fine speech on the Jere­mi­ah Wright con­tro­ver­sy, imply­ing that he could have done that over and over again. In fact, the Repub­li­cans con­sid­ered bring­ing Wright back in to the debate in 2012, only decid­ing against it when Mitt Rom­ney per­son­al­ly reject­ed the plan. There were many mil­lions of peo­ple will­ing to hear it — just not enough to win a nation­al elec­tion.

    ...

    Ok, maybe that was a stu­pid ques­tion. Maybe a more use­ful ques­tion would be to ask why we’re still struc­tur­ing soci­ety around a myth that some groups have to lose for soci­ety to win. Or maybe that’s a stu­pid ques­tion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 19, 2014, 10:35 am
  39. Sil­i­con Val­ley’s “Tech­to­pus” wage-fix­ing scan­dal just grew anoth­er ten­ta­cle (into the visu­al effects sec­tor. There haven’t been any pub­lic “Techtopus”-driven attempts to form new tech-work­er unions, but you have to won­der what would hap­pen if there actu­al­ly was a seri­ous protest move­ment that emerged. Pub­lic strikes by rel­a­tive­ly well paid tech sec­tors employ­ees just don’t seem to hap­pen very often so it’s hard to say how soci­ety would respond if a bunch of soft­ware engi­neers went on strike to protest the secret and sys­tem­at­ic sup­pres­sion of their wages by the major employ­ers in their indus­try and demand the right to form a union. Then again, there’s no rea­son to keep a move­ment exclu­sive­ly ded­i­cat­ed to just giv­ing tech work­ers a raise when almost every­one is get­ting sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly screwed:

    Think Progress
    Hun­dreds Of Fast Food Work­ers Arrest­ed While Strik­ing For High­er Wages

    by Alan Pyke Post­ed on Sep­tem­ber 5, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Hun­dreds of strik­ing fast food work­ers and their sup­port­ers were arrest­ed Thurs­day while protest­ing to demand high­er wages and the right to union­ize, strike orga­niz­ers say. Work­ers walked off the job in 159 dif­fer­ent cities on what was at least the 10th day of strikes in the 21 months since the cam­paign for a $15 hourly wage and full labor rights began in New York City just after Thanks­giv­ing 2012.

    The arrests were scat­tered around the coun­try and includ­ed 50 in Chica­go, 42 in Detroit, 11 in Lit­tle Rock, 10 in Las Vegas, and 52 in Kansas City, accord­ing to a par­tial list pro­vid­ed by orga­niz­ers. Police in Detroit report­ed­ly ran out of hand­cuffs at one point while arrest­ing peace­ful strik­ers who were block­ing traf­fic dur­ing their demon­stra­tion. Rep. Gwen Moore (D‑WI) was among the 25 work­ers and sup­port­ers arrest­ed in Mil­wau­kee, and sev­er­al oth­er mem­bers of the House Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus joined work­er actions in var­i­ous cities. Moore said she was giv­en a $691 tick­et for dis­or­der­ly con­duct after she and oth­er pro­test­ers defused to clear the road they were block­ing.

    ...

    But beyond the geo­graph­ic spread, Thursday’s strikes are the first exam­ple of a tac­ti­cal esca­la­tion that work­ers and orga­niz­ers promised at a con­ven­tion ear­li­er this sum­mer. A July gath­er­ing of more than 1,300 fast food work­ers pro­duced a res­o­lu­tion to begin using civ­il dis­obe­di­ence and non­vi­o­lent protest to advance their cause.

    “We had over 100 peo­ple arrest­ed, but how­ev­er they respect­ed every police offi­cer,” Rev. W. J. Ride­out told Detroit’s ABC affil­i­ate WXYZ on Thurs­day. “And we also chant­ed, ‘Police need a raise also.’ EMS need a raise, fire­fight­ers need a raise. So we’re not against any­one here, we’re against the cor­po­ra­tions, we’re against McDonald’s.”

    McDonald’s was recent­ly found to be respon­si­ble for its work­ers’ treat­ment by the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board. That might sound obvi­ous, but for decades the fast food indus­try has used fran­chise agree­ments to shrug off legal lia­bil­i­ty for labor vio­la­tions by the own­er-oper­a­tors who run the vast major­i­ty of fast food chain stores. That legal facade crum­bled this sum­mer after work­ers’ attor­neys pre­sent­ed evi­dence that McDonald’s is respon­si­ble for set­ting the rules that lead store own­ers to com­mit wage theft by fal­si­fy­ing time sheets, forc­ing peo­ple to work off the clock, and requir­ing work­ers to pay for their own uni­form upkeep, among oth­er wide­spread com­pa­ny prac­tices.

    The unre­lent­ing work­er pres­sure on the ground and the grad­ual shift in how labor reg­u­la­tors treat the fast food busi­ness mod­el could make it dif­fi­cult for these com­pa­nies to main­tain the sta­tus quo for much longer. At present, CEOs are paid 1,200 times more than work­ers in the indus­try. Front­line fast food work­ers — the vast major­i­ty of whom are adults, many with fam­i­lies to sup­port — earn pover­ty wages that require them to turn to pub­lic assis­tance pro­grams to sur­vive despite hav­ing a job. This tax­pay­er sub­sidy of low fast food wages costs the Amer­i­can pub­lic well over a bil­lion dol­lars a year (and when account­ing for sim­i­lar dynam­ics in oth­er low-wage indus­tries, the cost is clos­er to a quar­ter-tril­lion dol­lars). Worse, even those mea­ger wages often don’t get paid prop­er­ly. Nine out of 10 fast food work­ers reports being vic­tim­ized by some form of wage theft.

    Giv­en the intense anti-union sen­ti­ments that bizarrely per­me­ate the US soci­ety it’s not very like­ly that we’ll see some sort of new tech union form out of the grow­ing “Tech­to­pus” scan­dal. Start­ing a union isn’t easy as the arrest­ed fast food employ­ees amply demon­strate. But there’s noth­ing pre­vent­ing a polit­i­cal “union” of sorts. If tech work­ers begin to cham­pi­on humane liv­able wages for low wage employ­ees (espe­cial­ly in high cost-of-liv­ing cities), it sure sound­ed like like those strik­ing fast food employ­ees could get on board with back­ing aggres­sive antitrust inves­ti­ga­tions in the tech sec­tors in return. Those fast food employ­ees sure did­n’t appear to be very pro-monop­oly and, at this point, it’s pret­ty much an everyone-vs-the-top‑0.0001% econ­o­my. So fig­ur­ing out how to chan­nel those eco­nom­ic real­i­ties into a polit­i­cal force that can actu­al­ly address sit­u­a­tions like mass wage-fix­ing and employ­ee abuse is one of the great chal­lenges of the day. Per­haps the grow­ing rev­e­la­tions of employ­ees get­ting screwed over across the socioe­co­nom­ic spec­trum could be turned into a nation­al “we’re all in it togeth­er” teach­able moment. Might it hap­pen? Hope­ful­ly. It could yield much more valu­able life lessons than the ones we’re cur­rent­ly learn­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 8, 2014, 6:52 pm
  40. The bil­lion­aires would like you to know that they just can’t find any­where to invest their bil­lions because they’re still trau­ma­tized by the finan­cial cri­sis and just can’t find any good invest­ments. Since human­i­ty has decid­ed to rely on the whims of its oli­garchs to fix the econ­o­my we clear­ly need to all work togeth­er to make things more prof­itable for the “job cre­ators” if there’s going to be any hope for the future:

    CNBC.com

    Bil­lion­aires are hoard­ing piles of cash
    Robert Frank | @robtfrank
    Mon­day, 22 Sep 2014 | 2:12 PM ET

    Bil­lion­aires are hold­ing moun­tains of cash, offer­ing the lat­est sign that the ultra-wealthy are ner­vous about putting more mon­ey into today’s mar­kets.

    Accord­ing to the new Bil­lion­aire Cen­sus from Wealth‑X and UBS, the world’s bil­lion­aires are hold­ing an aver­age of $600 mil­lion in cash each—greater than the gross domes­tic prod­uct of Domini­ca. That marks a jump of $60 mil­lion from a year ago and trans­lates into bil­lion­aires’ hold­ing an aver­age of 19 per­cent of their net worth in cash.

    “This increased liq­uid­i­ty sig­nals that many bil­lion­aires are keep­ing their mon­ey on the side­lines and wait­ing for the opti­mal moment to make fur­ther invest­ments,” the study said.

    Indeed, bil­lion­aires’ cash hold­ings far exceed their invest­ments in real estate. Their real-estate hold­ings aver­age $160 mil­lion per bil­lion­aire, or about one-fifth of their cash hold­ings.

    Simon Smiles, chief invest­ment offi­cer for Ultra High Net Worth at UBS Wealth Man­age­ment, said that the bil­lion­aire fam­i­lies and fam­i­ly offices he talks to are focused large­ly on the same ques­tion: What to do with all their cash.

    “The appar­ent safe­ty of cash, rein­forced by the painful psy­cho­log­i­cal expe­ri­ence of the 2008-09 glob­al finan­cial cri­sis and the sub­se­quent trou­bles with­in the Euro­pean Mon­e­tary Union, like­ly rein­forces the ten­den­cy to favor this cau­tious allo­ca­tion strat­e­gy,” Smiles said in the report.

    But he said creep­ing infla­tion threat­ens to erode cash val­ues, so he’s advis­ing clients to take on “con­sid­ered amounts of risk” with inter­est rate swaps, cred­it default swaps, or sell­ing rates or for­eign exchange deriv­a­tives.

    ..

    The wealthy are still trau­ma­tized by the finan­cial cri­sis in 2009, when many wealthy fam­i­lies were scram­bling for cash, he said. What’s more, many wealthy fam­i­lies missed out on the big finan­cial-mar­ket ral­lies in 2012 and 2013 and feel like they missed the best chance to invest.

    “It’s the com­bi­na­tion of many peo­ple hav­ing been under-invest­ed in equi­ties and under-invest­ed in wide risk assets hav­ing seen ral­lies and missed those ral­lies,” he said. “Things are no longer cheap, and it’s emo­tion­al­ly hard to get invest­ed now.”

    It looks like there’s going to be no more trick­le-down pros­per­i­ty until the rich get rich­er and the poor get­ting poor­er. Uh oh.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 23, 2014, 7:48 pm
  41. Giv­en human­i­ty’s incred­i­ble capac­i­ty for col­lec­tive destruc­tion, it’s some­times easy to for­get about our equal­ly incred­i­ble capac­i­ty for col­lec­tive neglect:

    The New Yorks
    Lack of mon­ey at World Food Pro­gram leaves 1.7 mil­lion Syr­i­ans with­out aid

    By Hugh Nay­lor
    Decem­ber 1 at 1:04 PM

    BEIRUT — A fund­ing cri­sis has forced the World Food Pro­gram to sus­pend assis­tance to 1.7 mil­lion Syr­i­an refugees, the U.N. agency announced Mon­day, warn­ing that “many fam­i­lies will go hun­gry” with­out the aid.

    The pro­gram, which pro­vides elec­tron­ic vouch­ers for Syr­i­an refugees in Lebanon, Jor­dan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to buy food at local stores, faces a $64 mil­lion short­fall, the agency said, attribut­ing the prob­lem to “unful­filled” donor com­mit­ments.

    “The sus­pen­sion of WFP food assis­tance will be dis­as­trous for many already suf­fer­ing fam­i­lies,” Ertharin Cousin, the agency’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, said in a state­ment.

    She called for an imme­di­ate resump­tion of fund­ing and warned that the food-aid sus­pen­sion will “endan­ger the health and safe­ty of these refugees and will poten­tial­ly cause fur­ther ten­sions, insta­bil­i­ty and inse­cu­ri­ty in the neigh­bor­ing host coun­tries.”

    She did not spec­i­fy which coun­tries had not ful­filled pledges.

    The announce­ment comes amid height­ened con­cern about the safe­ty of the refugees in harsh con­di­tions. The deaths of two Syr­i­an infants last month in Lebanon were blamed on frigid weath­er. The flow of an esti­mat­ed 3.3 mil­lion Syr­i­ans from the con­flict in their coun­try has bad­ly strained neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as Lebanon and Jor­dan.

    More than 1 mil­lion Syr­i­ans have tak­en refuge in Lebanon, over­whelm­ing the nation of 4.4 mil­lion peo­ple. Cit­ing the eco­nom­ic bur­den and secu­ri­ty con­cerns, Lebanon has dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduced the num­ber of Syr­i­ans allowed entry.

    ...

    And if our incred­i­ble capac­i­ty for destruc­tion and neglect of oth­ers does­n’t leave you in awe (and hope­ful­ly shock), there’s always human­i­ty’s incred­i­ble capac­i­ty for self-destruc­tive col­lec­tive neglect:

    The Dai­ly Beast
    Mil­lions Promised for Ebo­la Not Adding Up
    Of the coun­tries that promised mon­ey to fight Ebo­la, lit­tle has been deliv­ered: 7 per­cent of China’s $122 mil­lion pledge, 17 per­cent of the $265 mil­lion promised by the EU, and 43 per­cent of the Unit­ed States’ $572 mil­lion.

    Abby Haglage
    11.25.14

    “Coun­tries have promised resources to fight Ebo­la. Which have deliv­ered?”

    It’s this ques­tion that inspired non­prof­it ONE.org to cre­ate an Ebo­la track­er to fig­ure out just that. While the Office for the Coor­di­na­tion of Human­i­tar­i­an Affairs (OCHA), the UN, and the World Bank have data on the dol­lar fig­ures asso­ci­at­ed with each pledge, no one had tak­en the time to fig­ure out how much of those resources have actu­al­ly made it to the ground in West Africa.

    The answer, as of today, isn’t much.

    Culling infor­ma­tion direct­ly from gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, press releas­es, tech­ni­cal bod­ies, and oth­er research, ONE has zeroed in on what exact­ly the inter­na­tion­al relief effort in West Africa looks like, at this point. The track­er focus­es on three spe­cif­ic forms of sup­port: financ­ing, health-care per­son­nel, and in-kind con­tri­bu­tions. This “deep­er dive” into indi­vid­ual country’s com­mit­ments, ONE hopes, will per­suade lead­ers to put their mon­ey where their mouth is.

    In the financ­ing por­tion, the num­bers are par­tic­u­lar­ly bleak. While Chi­na has pledged $122 mil­lion to the fight, it has thus far only dis­bursed 7 per­cent of that num­ber. Of the $265 mil­lion pledged by EU Insti­tu­tions, just 17 per­cent have reached the epidemic’s hot zone. Even pri­vate insti­tu­tions, which most like­ly have less bureau­crat­ic hur­dles to deal with, have been slow to pull the trig­ger. The Sil­i­con Val­ley Com­mu­ni­ty Fund has thus far sent 0 per­cent of the 25 mil­lion pledged. At the Google/Larry Page Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion, it’s the iden­ti­cal equa­tion.

    Erin Hohlfelder, glob­al health pol­i­cy direc­tor at ONE and the brains behind the track­er, says the track­er shows the impor­tance in trans­paren­cy. “It’s one thing to make a great pledge and com­mit to doing that,” says Hohlfelder. “But in the mean­time, every day that goes by with­out these resources is a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty.” While progress has been made in the months since those pledges, there is much work still to be done.

    The largest and longest Ebo­la epi­dem­ic of its kind, the cri­sis has result­ed in an esti­mat­ed 15,351 cas­es of Ebo­la and 5,459 deaths since March—numbers that the World Health Organization’s direc­tor has called a “vast under­es­ti­mate” of the real­i­ty. While Liberia has shown progress in halt­ing the epidemic’s spread, in con­tin­ues to grow in neigh­bor­ing Sier­ra Leone and Mali. Accord­ing to Octo­ber esti­mates from the World Bank, the epi­dem­ic could cost the West African coun­tries affect­ed upward of $32 bil­lion in the next 24 months.

    If more help doesn’t arrive soon, the worst may not be over.

    If there’s a rea­son for delay in stop­ping the epi­dem­ic, she says, the lack of resources may be to blame. “This isn’t a nice-to-do devel­op­ment project, this is still an emer­gency,” Hohlfelder tells me. “While we wouldn’t expect 100 per­cent dis­bur­sal, a lot of these are pathet­i­cal­ly low.”

    ...

    “While we wouldn’t expect 100 per­cent dis­bur­sal, a lot of these are pathet­i­cal­ly low.”Pathet­i­cal­ly low indeed. Incred­i­bly pathet­i­cal­ly low. Way to go human­i­ty. We could have tak­en the high road, but we stuck to the high­ly incred­i­bly prof­itable road instead. Buck­le up.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 1, 2014, 10:42 pm
  42. If you thought the Gob­lin King had it good, check this out: “Brent earned $960,000 in total com­pen­sa­tion from con­ser­v­a­tive non­prof­its relat­ed to ForAmer­i­ca in 2012 and 2013; David was paid $114,000 for his work.” It’s good to be the Troll King:

    The Atlantic
    The Right Wing’s Face­book Army
    How ForAmer­i­ca became a force to be reck­oned with in pol­i­tics
    Tim Alber­ta and Shane Gold­mach­er Dec 8 2014, 11:00 AM ET

    The dig­i­tal army sprung to life with a click of a mouse in a non­de­script office park in Alexan­dria. Less than 10 miles away, at the White House, the phones began to light up. One call came into the switch­board and then anoth­er. Thou­sands of peo­ple flood­ed the phone lines.

    It was ear­ly August 2014, and the callers were con­ser­v­a­tives lam­bast­ing Pres­i­dent Oba­ma for promis­ing what they described as “exec­u­tive amnesty.” The del­uge of angry activists was not the work of a heav­i­ly coor­di­nat­ed nation­al cam­paign, a pricey phone-bank­ing oper­a­tion, or real­ly an exhaus­tive effort of any kind.

    It result­ed from a sin­gle post on Face­book.

    The vol­ume of calls was so high that, with­in hours, the White House com­plained it was a “secu­ri­ty issue,” accord­ing to an email from the phone ven­dor hired to con­nect callers to the switch­board. More than 9,000 calls had been made before they pulled the plug. At the head­quar­ters of ForAmer­i­ca, the con­ser­v­a­tive group that had launched the tele­phone broad­side, the White House­’s reac­tion was seen more as vic­to­ry than defeat.

    “We got our point across,” said David Bozell, ForAmer­i­ca’s exec­u­tive direc­tor.

    In the last four years, ForAmer­i­ca has qui­et­ly amassed what it likes to call a “dig­i­tal army” on Facebook—a force that that now num­bers more than 7 mil­lion. The group’s spec­tac­u­lar growth can be explained in part by the paid acqui­si­tion of its mem­bers through tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing. But thanks to a dai­ly stream of savvy and snack­able red-meat mes­sag­ing, these mer­ce­nar­ies have become loy­al con­ser­v­a­tive dig­i­tal sol­diers whose engage­ment is attract­ing new recruits. These days, a rou­tine post on ForAmer­i­ca’s page reach­es more than 2 mil­lion peo­ple, achieves more than 100,000 “likes,” and has tens of thou­sands of peo­ple repost and com­ment.

    But shut­ting down the White House switch­board this sum­mer was just a warm-up act. Bozell and his father, Brent Bozell, the group’s chair­man and a fix­ture in the hard-lin­er wing of GOP pol­i­tics, have been posi­tion­ing their troops for a big­ger bat­tle: polic­ing the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial race.

    “Any­body who runs as a con­ser­v­a­tive,” Brent Bozell declared, “is going to have to sat­is­fy our army.”

    Already, the Bozells have proved willing—if not eager—to direct their army’s rage against fel­low Repub­li­cans. They jammed the lines of Mitch McConnel­l’s cam­paign office in the final days of his cru­cial reelec­tion con­test, accus­ing the sen­a­tor of sound­ing wob­bly on repeal­ing Oba­macare. Just last week ForAmer­i­ca urged its mem­bers to dial up House Major­i­ty Whip Steve Scalise and demand he toe the con­ser­v­a­tive line on immi­gra­tion. These pres­sure cam­paigns are orches­trat­ed by the Bozells, but exe­cut­ed by their group’s excitable, activist base.

    “Face­book tells us quite often that we’re among their most engaged oper­a­tions on its entire plat­form, and def­i­nite­ly No. 1 in the polit­i­cal sphere,” David Bozell said. Indeed, an offi­cial with Face­book con­firmed that ForAmer­i­ca’s flock is among “the largest and most active pres­ences on Face­book” in the polit­i­cal realm.

    That pres­ence was felt last month as Oba­ma pre­pared his big immi­gra­tion plan to shield mil­lions from depor­ta­tion. ForAmer­i­ca post­ed a pre­emp­tive attack two days ear­li­er: “LIKE if you are opposed to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s plan to grant exec­u­tive amnesty to ille­gal immi­grants!” The post earned near­ly 300,000 likes.

    When Oba­ma post­ed a video, exclu­sive­ly on Face­book, announc­ing his uni­lat­er­al action, it drew nation­al head­lines and atten­tion. It was cross-post­ed to the White House page and Oba­ma’s page, which togeth­er boast near­ly 47 mil­lion fans—almost sev­en times the sum of ForAmer­i­ca. The com­bined view­er­ship stat line: 108,000 “likes,” 61,000 shares, about 30,000 com­ments, and 4.3 mil­lion views.

    The next day, ForAmer­i­ca post­ed a rebut­tal speech in which Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz quot­ed Cicero on the Sen­ate floor. Despite being of almost no news val­ue, it had 1.3 mil­lion views.

    “This is not a fake, make-believe army. This is 7 mil­lion peo­ple who are active in the polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion, who are con­ser­v­a­tives,” said the elder Bozell. “And with­out them, you ain’t gonna win the pri­ma­ry.”

    Brent Bozell, the nephew of Nation­al Review founder William F. Buck­ley, has right-wing pol­i­tics in his blood.

    Known for his boom­ing laugh­ter and rust-and-white-col­ored beard, Bozell, 59, has over the past quar­ter-cen­tu­ry grown into some­thing of a god­fa­ther to the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment. He found­ed the Media Research Cen­ter in 1987 as a watch­dog to the lib­er­al media, and in decades since has par­layed that suc­cess into spin­off advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions and even news web­sites, includ­ing CNSNews.com and News­busters. Con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cians have long lined up to kiss his ring.

    But it was­n’t until late 2010 that he dis­cov­ered the pow­er of social media. Talk radio had long been dom­i­nat­ed by the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, but David Bozell, 36, was con­vinced they could tap into a new medi­um and cre­ate a grass­roots pow­er­house dri­ven by online activ­i­ty. The elder Bozell was­n’t buy­ing it at first—“I was a Doubt­ing Thomas,” he recalled—but even­tu­al­ly suc­cumbed to pres­sure from his son.

    The Bozells launched ForAmer­i­ca’s Face­book page in Sep­tem­ber 2010. The goal was to use paid acqui­si­tion to secure 300,000 Face­book “fans” by the end of 2010. “We got it in a month and a half,” David said. The explo­sive growth con­tin­ued over the next sev­er­al years. Each new mem­ber­ship bench­mark they set was eclipsed faster—and less expensively—than they had pro­ject­ed.

    The Bozells would­n’t say who under­writes ForAmer­i­ca, but tax records show that $2.4 mil­lion of the $2.52 mil­lion the orga­ni­za­tion raised in 2013 came from a sin­gle donor. Non­prof­its aren’t required to dis­close their financiers. The mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bud­get has allowed them to steadi­ly add new fans on Face­book for four years.

    With 2016 loom­ing, ForAmer­i­ca is tar­get­ing its out­reach in key states—those home to ear­ly pri­ma­ry con­tests and gen­er­al-elec­tion battlegrounds—to max­i­mize the group’s influ­ence over the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Their mem­ber­ship bench­marks are lofty—10 mil­lion mem­bers by the Iowa cau­cus­es in Jan­u­ary 2016, and 11.5 mil­lion by the Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion. Per­haps most auda­cious­ly, David said they want at least “five per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers in every state” to be mem­bers of their move­ment.

    The growth, of course, is a means to an end: hav­ing the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls cater to the con­cerns of the con­ser­v­a­tive base. “Do the right thing and we’re going to be behind you,” Brent said. “Do the wrong thing and we’re going to be your worst night­mare.”

    Some in the prospec­tive 2016 field are already prepar­ing accord­ing­ly. Cruz, for exam­ple, has a pre­vi­ous rela­tion­ship with the Bozells and com­mu­ni­cates with them often. Accord­ing to a source close to the Texas sen­a­tor, there is even pre­lim­i­nary talk of Cruz join­ing a dig­i­tal “town hall” meet­ing with ForAmer­i­ca mem­bers next year.

    ...

    That ForAmer­i­ca, and oth­er tea-par­ty-influ­enced groups such as Her­itage Action, Free­dom­Works, and the Sen­ate Con­ser­v­a­tives Fund spend near­ly as much time tar­get­ing Repub­li­cans as they do Democ­rats ran­kles many in the GOP estab­lish­ment. “It’s dis­ap­point­ing that these grass­roots resources aren’t gen­er­al­ly tar­get­ed against Democ­rats who are the real prob­lem for advanc­ing con­ser­v­a­tive val­ues,” said Bri­an Walsh, a GOP strate­gist and out­spo­ken crit­ics of these groups.

    More specif­i­cal­ly, the com­plaint is that the Bozells are part of a pro­fes­sion­al­ized “puri­ty for prof­it” move­ment in D.C., in which some con­ser­v­a­tives make a liv­ing ril­ing up the grass­roots. Brent earned $960,000 in total com­pen­sa­tion from con­ser­v­a­tive non­prof­its relat­ed to ForAmer­i­ca in 2012 and 2013; David was paid $114,000 for his work.

    Brent is unapolo­getic about engag­ing in intra­party war­fare when Repub­li­cans aren’t faith­ful to the cause. “Look,” he said, “up until this point, it’s been pri­mar­i­ly neg­a­tive because there’s been noth­ing good going on in Wash­ing­ton in this God-for­sak­en city.”

    That said, ForAmer­i­ca’s founders insist they hope to lift up strong Repub­li­cans in 2016—not just tear down weak ones. “If Jeb Bush gets reli­gion on deficit spend­ing and cham­pi­ons a real deficit reduc­tion pro­gram, we’re going to pro­mote Jeb Bush,” the elder Bozell said.

    He quick­ly caught him­self, and added with a smile: “Not for the pres­i­den­cy, but we’re going to pro­mote what he’s doing.”

    So...

    ...

    The Bozells would­n’t say who under­writes ForAmer­i­ca, but tax records show that $2.4 mil­lion of the $2.52 mil­lion the orga­ni­za­tion raised in 2013 came from a sin­gle donor”.

    ...

    More specif­i­cal­ly, the com­plaint is that the Bozells are part of a pro­fes­sion­al­ized “puri­ty for prof­it” move­ment in D.C., in which some con­ser­v­a­tives make a liv­ing ril­ing up the grass­roots. Brent earned $960,000 in total com­pen­sa­tion from con­ser­v­a­tive non­prof­its relat­ed to ForAmer­i­ca in 2012 and 2013; David was paid $114,000 for his work.

    ...

    Well, who­ev­er the mys­tery donor is, they don’t seem to mind over $1,000,000 of that $2.4 mil­lion going to Bozells.

    It’s clear­ly good to be an insane­ly rich secret Troll King bene­fac­tor too.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 8, 2014, 10:20 am
  43. Here’s a sign of the times: At the same time that a new OxFam study shows the wealth­i­est 80 peo­ple on the plan­et own as much as the poor­est 3 bil­lion, we have sto­ries about how Pres­i­dent Oba­ma new call for for rais­ing cap­i­tal gains tax­es on the rich is, of course, a com­plete non-starter with a GOP con­trolled con­gress. That’s why it’s seen as more of a trolling taunt than a seri­ous pol­i­cy pro­pos­al:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post
    Oba­ma uses his tax pro­pos­al to taunt the GOP

    By Marc A. Thiessen Jan­u­ary 19 at 10:36 AM

    Let’s imag­ine you were a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent who just lost con­trol of Con­gress to the Repub­li­cans, and you want­ed to make it real­ly, real­ly clear that you are not seri­ous about gov­ern­ing. What would you do? Sim­ple: Use your State of the Union address to pro­pose hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in new tax­es that will nev­er be enact­ed, in order to fund a slew of new gov­ern­ment pro­grams that have no chance of being approved.

    Wel­come to Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

    On Tues­day night, Oba­ma will ask the new Repub­li­can Con­gress to approve $320 bil­lion in tax increas­es. To see how absurd this is, imag­ine for a moment what the reac­tion would have been if, after los­ing con­trol of Con­gress to the Democ­rats in 2006, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush had used his next State of the Union address to pro­pose $320 bil­lion in growth-ori­ent­ed tax cuts. Would any­one have tak­en him seri­ous­ly? The media would have dis­missed Bush as delu­sion­al. Democ­rats would have laughed. Every­one would have asked: What’s wrong with him? Didn’t he get the mes­sage of the 2006 midterms? What plan­et is he on?

    Oba­ma is not delu­sion­al. He knows his plan has no chance of becom­ing law. White House offi­cials, accord­ing to Politi­co, “aren’t hold­ing their breath that Obama’s new pro­pos­als will pass Con­gress now that Repub­li­cans con­trol both cham­bers.” (Which rais­es the ques­tion why, if Oba­ma were seri­ous, didn’t he pro­pose them when Democ­rats con­trolled both cham­bers?) The goal is for “Oba­ma to posi­tion him­self as a defend­er of the mid­dle class” and put Repub­li­cans in the “polit­i­cal­ly awk­ward” posi­tion of resist­ing tax increas­es on the rich to pay for pro­grams that ben­e­fit the mid­dle class.

    In oth­er words, Obama’s move is com­plete­ly and trans­par­ent­ly polit­i­cal. He knows Repub­li­cans have been work­ing to shed their image as the par­ty of the rich and pow­er­ful, with a new focus on help­ing the poor and the work­ing class. He wants to taunt the GOP into attack­ing his plan so he can accuse Repub­li­cans of fight­ing for the wealthy. Indeed, with­in hours of the White House announce­ment of Obama’s plan, his for­mer speech­writer Jon Favreau tweet­ed: “I see Obama’s tax plan has already bait­ed Repub­li­cans into mak­ing the argu­ment that most annoys peo­ple about their par­ty.” That is the objec­tive — to bait Repub­li­cans.

    So what should the GOP do? Not take the bait. Not argue the mer­its of Obama’s plan. Ignore it and pass pro­pos­als of their own to help low­er- and mid­dle-income fam­i­lies. The pres­i­dent gets his one night at the ros­trum of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to make his case, but Repub­li­cans con­trol the House and Sen­ate. They should move for­ward with seri­ous plans to help those who are strug­gling in the Oba­ma recov­ery that do not involve mas­sive new tax­es or mas­sive new spend­ing — and then dare Oba­ma and the Democ­rats to oppose them.

    ...

    Obama’s polit­i­cal ploy only works if the right treats it seri­ous­ly. Repub­li­cans should ignore his plan and move for­ward with their own pro­pos­als to help Amer­i­cans who are strug­gling. If Oba­ma wants to act like a lame duck, the GOP should treat him like one.

    Keep in mind that Marc Thiessen is a for­mer speech writer for George W. Bush and Don Rums­feld, and his wife is a for­mer chief of staff of the Repub­li­can Sen­ate Pol­i­cy Com­mit­tee, so he’s prob­a­bly going to be extra irked by pres­i­den­tial taunts tar­get­ing the GOP.

    But it’s still pret­ty obvi­ous that pres­i­dent Oba­ma has hit trolling pay­dirt with this because any time you can get the GOP to start talk­ing about its plans for help­ing the poor and mid­dle class it’s guar­an­teed com­e­dy gold! 24k sol­id gold! Let the Trolololo­lo-ing com­mence! There’s pret­ty much end­less mate­r­i­al for the Democ­rats to work with so hope­ful­ly they’ll get cre­ative and maybe even inspire some GOP counter-trolling. That could be awe­some.

    Oh, that’s right, the GOP has been already been counter-trolling. For decades. It was­n’t awe­some.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 19, 2015, 12:49 pm
  44. If you’re a bil­lion­aire you have to walk a num­ber of very strange lines. After all, you’re going to have to some­how jus­ti­fy your incred­i­ble wealth and influ­ence while, at the same time, avoid­ing any of the blame for the hor­ri­ble out­comes of the poli­cies you advo­cat­ed, espe­cial­ly if the hor­ri­ble poli­cies were also high­ly prof­itable to the bil­lion­aires. Basi­cal­ly, the Great Grift nev­er ends when you’re worth THAT much.

    But the Bil­lion­aire shuf­fle is also com­pli­cat­ed by anoth­er unpleas­ant fact: If the gen­er­al pub­lic final­ly has an “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore”-moment and starts reach­ing for their torch­es and pitch­forks, the bil­lion­aires will simul­ta­ne­ous­ly have to send the mes­sage that they total­ly deserve their wealth AND they are just clue­less dod­der­ing old fools that had no idea things had got­ten so out of con­trol. Sort of like the spin used by the entire finan­cial sec­tor fol­low­ing after the finan­cial melt­down, but for bil­lion­aires. The clue­less, dod­der­ing, help­less bil­lion­aires that are just too incom­pe­tent to harm a fly. Is isn’t easy walk­ing the bil­lion­aire walk.

    And yet bil­lion­aire pub­lic behav­ior game-the­o­ry still does­n’t explain the uptick in recent years of bil­lion­aires spew­ing out the kind of rhetoric that is guar­an­teed to enrage the rab­ble while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly giv­ing a “I’m total­ly clue­less” vibe. Is this all part of some new rhetor­i­cal strat­e­gy? Demen­tia? Some sort of hyper­par­a­site infes­ta­tion? BPA poi­son­ing? In oth­er words, in this recent man­i­fes­ta­tion of aggres­sive bil­lion­aire mad­ness part of a plan? Or is it real­ly just aggres­sive bil­lion­aire mad­ness?

    Lawyers Guns Mon­ey blog
    Crazy old man rants in Cen­tral Park about young black men com­mit­ting 95% of all mur­ders
    Feb­ru­ary 11, 2015 | Paul Cam­pos

    Wait, did I say in Cen­tral Park? I meant at the Aspen Insti­tute:

    Bloomberg claimed that 95 per­cent of mur­ders fall into a spe­cif­ic cat­e­go­ry: male, minor­i­ty and between the ages of 15 and 25.

    Per the most recent FBI sta­tis­tics, the actu­al per­cent­age appears to be 22.8.

    Here are a few more sur­pris­ing facts, soon to be fea­tured on var­i­ous web­sites near you:

    Becom­ing a plumber is on aver­age a more lucra­tive career choice than grad­u­at­ing from Har­vard Col­lege:

    If a per­son has the option of going to Har­vard or becom­ing a plumber, he said he would sug­gest think­ing about the plumb­ing career.

    “The Har­vard grad­u­ate on aver­age will nev­er catch up to a plumber,” Bloomberg said. “Par­tial­ly because the first four years — instead of spend­ing $60,000, you make $60,000.”

    Union­ized New York City wait­ress­es make $150,000 per year, while ordi­nary wait­ress­es make only $50,000 to $60,000:

    In New York City, where 56 mil­lion tourists vis­it annu­al­ly, Bloomberg said the hos­pi­tal­i­ty and ser­vice indus­tries are key. Though some might say those aren’t good jobs, he claimed that a wait­ress in the grand ball­room of the Wal­dorf Asto­ria Hotel makes $150,000 a year because of strong union nego­ti­a­tions. A wait­ress in a decent New York restau­rant will make $50,000 to $60,000 a year, he said.

    Legal­iz­ing mar­i­jua­na is going to sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er the IQs of chil­dren:

    When an audi­ence mem­ber asked the 72-year-old Bloomberg about Col­orado mar­i­jua­na, he respond­ed that it was a ter­ri­ble idea, one that is hurt­ing the devel­op­ing minds of chil­dren. Though he admit­ted to smok­ing a joint in the 1960s, he said the drug is more acces­si­ble and more dam­ag­ing today.

    “What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points low­er than they would have been?” he asked. “I couldn’t feel more strong­ly about it, and my girl­friend says it’s no dif­fer­ent than alco­hol. It is dif­fer­ent than alco­hol. This is one of the stu­pid­er things that’s hap­pen­ing across our coun­try.”

    Also:

    Bloomberg, who is now worth $36.6 bil­lion, accord­ing to Forbes, said the poor in the U.S. need bet­ter edu­ca­tion.

    ...

    “The Har­vard grad­u­ate on aver­age will nev­er catch up to a plumber,” Bloomberg said. “Par­tial­ly because the first four years — instead of spend­ing $60,000, you make $60,000.”
    Ah. That’s too bad for Michael Bloomberg. It’s look­ing like it’s a case of demen­tia.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 11, 2015, 2:27 pm
  45. LOL! It was just a mat­ter of time but here we are: Mil­lion­aire pro­les:

    Hul­la­baloo
    Mil­lion­aires just get no respect these days. Bil­lion­aires take it all.

    by dig­by
    3/25/2015 08:00:00 AM

    The Wash­ing­ton Post reports on the very sad plight of a group of wealthy for­mer bundlers who just aren’t rich enough to gar­ner the atten­tion from politi­cians that bil­lion­aires do:

    “They are only going to peo­ple who are mul­ti-mul­ti-mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires and rais­ing big mon­ey first,” said Neese, who found­ed a suc­cess­ful employ­ment agency. “Most of the peo­ple I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and say­ing, ‘You know, we just don’t count any­more.’?”

    It’s the lament of the rich who are not quite rich enough for 2016.

    Bundlers who used to car­ry plat­inum sta­tus have been down­grad­ed, forced to tem­porar­i­ly watch the mon­ey race from the side­lines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a sev­en-fig­ure check to a super PAC with­out blink­ing. Who needs a bundler when you have a bil­lion­aire?

    Many fundrais­ers, once treat­ed like roy­al­ty because of their exten­sive donor networks,are left pin­ing for their lost pres­tige. Can they still have impact in a world where Jeb Bush asks big donors to please not give more than $1?million to his super PAC right now? Will they ever be in the inner cir­cle again?

    “A cou­ple pres­i­den­tial elec­tions ago, some­body who had raised, say, $100,000 for a can­di­date was viewed as a fair­ly valu­able asset,” said Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist Ken­neth Kies. “Today, that looks like peanuts. Peo­ple like me are prob­a­bly look­ing around say­ing, ‘How can I do any­thing that even reg­is­ters on the Richter scale?’?”

    Sex­u­al favors? Offer to kill some­one? There must be some­thing.

    This is so twist­ed you have no choice but to laugh. These peo­ple are feel­ing slight­ed because they aren’t rich enough to gain the atten­tion of politi­cians. Wel­come to the world the rest of us inhab­it, friends. But per­haps they need to ask them­selves why they are treat­ing these peo­ple as if they’re roy­al­ty or demi-Gods in the first place. This is sup­posed to be a democ­ra­cy and politi­cians are sup­posed to be seek­ing the approval of the cit­i­zens. Instead we have cit­i­zens seek­ing approval from the politi­cians and the politi­cians seek­ing approval from the ultra-wealthy. Some­thing isn’t quite right.

    Still, you have to feel sor­ry for them for this ter­ri­ble loss of sta­tus. It’s got­ta hurt to be a mil­lion­aire mem­ber of the upper five per­cent, used to being treat­ed with def­er­ence by the ser­vant class (the rest of us) and sud­den­ly find your­self tossed aside as just anoth­er use­less poor per­son. The answer to this dilem­ma — the answer they would cer­tain­ly give to any of the sad mid­dle class and work­ing class peo­ple who would ask this ques­tion is — must be to “work hard­er” and become a bil­lion­aire them­selves. Isn’t it the case that ris­ing to the top is just a mat­ter of hav­ing a good work eth­ic? And if you fail, it’s because you just don’t put the kind of effort into it that bil­lion­aires do? That’s what I always heard any­way.

    Come on, mil­lion­aires, buck up. Any­one can become a bil­lion­aire if they real­ly try. This is Amer­i­ca. You only have your­self to blame if you just don’t have enough mon­ey to make a politi­cian care what you have to say.

    We are the 99.9%! Pathet­i­cal­ly.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 26, 2015, 9:24 am
  46. Paul Krug­man lat­est col­umn points us towards one of the more dom­i­nant caus­es of demo­c­ra­t­ic dys­func­tion grip­ping the globe: There are no mean­ing­ful con­se­quences to good or bad poli­cies because vot­ers have no mem­o­ries of what hap­pened or why:

    The New York Times
    The Opin­ion Pages
    Eco­nom­ics and Elec­tions

    Paul Krug­man
    APRIL 6, 2015

    Britain’s eco­nom­ic per­for­mance since the finan­cial cri­sis struck has been star­tling­ly bad. A ten­ta­tive recov­ery began in 2009, but it stalled in 2010. Although growth resumed in 2013, real income per capi­ta is only now reach­ing reach­ing its lev­el on the eve of the cri­sis — which means that Britain has had a much worse track record since 2007 than it had dur­ing the Great Depres­sion.

    Yet as Britain pre­pares to go to the polls, the lead­ers of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment that has ruled the coun­try since 2010 are pos­ing as the guardians of pros­per­i­ty, the peo­ple who real­ly know how to run the econ­o­my. And they are, by and large, get­ting away with it.

    There are some impor­tant lessons here, not just for Britain but for all democ­ra­cies strug­gling to man­age their economies in dif­fi­cult times. I’ll get to those lessons in a minute. But first, let’s ask how a British gov­ern­ment with such a poor eco­nom­ic record can man­age to run on its sup­posed eco­nom­ic achieve­ments.

    Well, you could blame the weak­ness of the oppo­si­tion, which has done an absolute­ly ter­ri­ble job of mak­ing its case. You could blame the feck­less­ness of the news media, which has got­ten much wrong. But the truth is that what’s hap­pen­ing in British pol­i­tics is what almost always hap­pens, there and every­where else: Vot­ers have fair­ly short mem­o­ries, and they judge eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy not by long-term results but by recent growth. Over five years, the coalition’s record looks ter­ri­ble. But over the past cou­ple of quar­ters it looks pret­ty good, and that’s what mat­ters polit­i­cal­ly.

    In mak­ing these asser­tions, I’m not engaged in casu­al spec­u­la­tion — I’m draw­ing on a large body of polit­i­cal sci­ence research, main­ly focused on pres­i­den­tial con­tests in the Unit­ed States but clear­ly applic­a­ble else­where. This research debunks almost all the horse-race nar­ra­tives beloved by polit­i­cal pun­dits — nev­er mind who wins the news cycle, or who appeals to the sup­posed con­cerns of inde­pen­dent vot­ers. What main­ly mat­ters is income growth imme­di­ate­ly before the elec­tion. And I mean imme­di­ate­ly: We’re talk­ing about some­thing less than a year, maybe less than half a year.

    This is, if you think about it, a dis­tress­ing result, because it says that there is lit­tle or no polit­i­cal reward for good pol­i­cy. A nation’s lead­ers may do an excel­lent job of eco­nom­ic stew­ard­ship for four or five years yet get boot­ed out because of weak­ness in the last two quar­ters before the elec­tion. In fact, the evi­dence sug­gests that the polit­i­cal­ly smart thing might well be to impose a point­less depres­sion on your coun­try for much of your time in office, sole­ly to leave room for a roar­ing recov­ery just before vot­ers go to the polls.

    Actu­al­ly, that’s a pret­ty good descrip­tion of what the cur­rent British gov­ern­ment has done, although it’s not clear that it was delib­er­ate.

    The point, then, is that elec­tions — which are sup­posed to hold politi­cians account­able — don’t seem to ful­fill that func­tion very well when it comes to eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy. But can any­thing be done about this weak­ness?

    One pos­si­ble answer, which appeals to many pun­dits, might be to remove eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy mak­ing from the polit­i­cal sphere and turn it over to non­par­ti­san elite com­mis­sions. This pre­sumes, how­ev­er, that elites know what they are doing — and it’s hard to see what, in recent events, might make you believe that. After all, Amer­i­can elites spent years in the thrall of Bowles-Simp­son­ism, a com­plete­ly mis­placed obses­sion over bud­get deficits. Euro­pean elites, with their com­mit­ment to puni­tive aus­ter­i­ty, have been even worse.

    A bet­ter, more demo­c­ra­t­ic answer would be to seek a bet­ter-informed elec­torate. One real­ly strik­ing thing about the British eco­nom­ic debate is the con­trast between what pass­es for eco­nom­ic analy­sis in the news media — even in high-end news­pa­pers and on elite-ori­ent­ed TV shows — and the con­sen­sus of pro­fes­sion­al econ­o­mists. News reports often por­tray recent growth as a vin­di­ca­tion of aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies, but sur­veys of econ­o­mists find only a small minor­i­ty agree­ing with that asser­tion. Claims that bud­get deficits are the most impor­tant issue fac­ing Britain are made as if they were sim­ple asser­tions of fact, when they are actu­al­ly con­tentious, if not fool­ish.

    ...

    What, then, should those of us who study eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy and care about real-world out­comes do? The answer, sure­ly, is that we should do our jobs: Try to get it right, and explain our answers as clear­ly as we can. Real­is­ti­cal­ly, the polit­i­cal impact will usu­al­ly be mar­gin­al at best. Bad things will hap­pen to good ideas, and vice ver­sa. So be it. Elec­tions deter­mine who has the pow­er, not who has the truth.

    Yeah, this is pret­ty dis­tress­ing:

    In mak­ing these asser­tions, I’m not engaged in casu­al spec­u­la­tion — I’m draw­ing on a large body of polit­i­cal sci­ence research, main­ly focused on pres­i­den­tial con­tests in the Unit­ed States but clear­ly applic­a­ble else­where. This research debunks almost all the horse-race nar­ra­tives beloved by polit­i­cal pun­dits — nev­er mind who wins the news cycle, or who appeals to the sup­posed con­cerns of inde­pen­dent vot­ers. What main­ly mat­ters is income growth imme­di­ate­ly before the elec­tion. And I mean imme­di­ate­ly: We’re talk­ing about some­thing less than a year, maybe less than half a year.

    This is, if you think about it, a dis­tress­ing result, because it says that there is lit­tle or no polit­i­cal reward for good pol­i­cy. A nation’s lead­ers may do an excel­lent job of eco­nom­ic stew­ard­ship for four or five years yet get boot­ed out because of weak­ness in the last two quar­ters before the elec­tion. In fact, the evi­dence sug­gests that the polit­i­cal­ly smart thing might well be to impose a point­less depres­sion on your coun­try for much of your time in office, sole­ly to leave room for a roar­ing recov­ery just before vot­ers go to the polls.

    Actu­al­ly, that’s a pret­ty good descrip­tion of what the cur­rent British gov­ern­ment has done, although it’s not clear that it was delib­er­ate.

    So what’s to be done about the chron­ic reac­tionary mass clue­less­ness that enables one hor­ri­ble pol­i­cy after anoth­er? Well, as Krug­man points out, one obvi­ous part of the solu­tion is for econ­o­mists to do a bet­ter job explain­ing to the pub­lic what’s hap­pen­ing in the econ­o­my and why:

    What, then, should those of us who study eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy and care about real-world out­comes do? The answer, sure­ly, is that we should do our jobs: Try to get it right, and explain our answers as clear­ly as we can. Real­is­ti­cal­ly, the polit­i­cal impact will usu­al­ly be mar­gin­al at best. Bad things will hap­pen to good ideas, and vice ver­sa. So be it. Elec­tions deter­mine who has the pow­er, not who has the truth.

    And more effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the pro­fes­sion­al econ­o­mists is cer­tain­ly part of the answer. But, as Krug­man also points out, no one even expects that an improve­ment in the qual­i­ty of then nation­al dis­course amongst eco­nom­ic experts would actu­al­ly result in more than a mar­gin­al polit­i­cal impact. And why would it? A bet­ter dia­logue does­n’t real­ly do much good when no one is lis­ten­ing.

    This conun­drum is there for vir­tu­al­ly all areas of pub­lic pol­i­cy and cur­rent events, but part of what makes this par­tic­u­lar conun­drum for eco­nom­ics so inter­est­ing is that if you real­ly want to find a long-term solu­tion to chron­ic pub­lic amne­sia and gen­er­al clue­less­ness you need to recon­fig­ure your econ­o­my so peo­ple actu­al­ly have time to pay atten­tion to stuff.

    Sure, if you give the pub­lic the time to actu­al­ly inform them­selves there might be plen­ty of peo­ple that choose not to do so. But as long as the econ­o­my is struc­tured in a such a way that a shrink­ing num­ber of peo­ple actu­al have 40 hour work week and more and more peo­ple are work­ing nights and week­ends, there’s real­ly no way you can can rea­son­ably expect the pub­lic to any real sense of what’s going on their world that’s ground­ed in report­ed fact. How is it is event pos­si­ble with­out time?

    So maybe part of what we need to see from the pro­fes­sion­al econ­o­mists isn’t just a high­er qual­i­ty of nation­al dis­course of the eco­nom­ic affairs of the day but also an ongo­ing nation­al dia­logue about the incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty costs asso­ci­at­ed with an econ­o­my that does­n’t leave the pub­lic enough time to actu­al­ly be informed. Putting aside the self-inflict­ed dam­age in non-eco­nom­ic that a soci­ety sus­tains from mass clue­less­ness, just imag­ine how much eco­nom­ic dam­age results from soci­ety oper­at­ing in Memen­to mode ALL THE TIME, DECADE AFTER DECADE. How exact­ly is “the mar­ket” sup­posed to func­tion with­out the nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion inputs and no work­ing mem­o­ry?

    Oh yeah, poor­ly. That’s how.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 6, 2015, 1:55 pm
  47. Guess who Time found to pen some sweet noth­ings about the Koch Broth­ers. Hint: He isn’t just run­ning for Pres­i­dent of the Koch Broth­ers’ Fan Club:

    Time
    The 100 Most Influ­en­tial Peo­ple
    Charles Koch & David Koch

    By Rand Paul
    April 16, 2015

    Idea men

    Charles and David Koch are well known for their busi­ness suc­cess, their gen­er­ous phil­an­thropic efforts and for their focus on inno­va­tion in man­age­ment. Some also know them for their activism in the polit­i­cal realm. All of these are impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to soci­ety. What is under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed is their pas­sion for free­dom and their com­mit­ment to ideas. Unlike many crony cap­i­tal­ists who troll the halls of Con­gress look­ing for favors, the Kochs have con­sis­tent­ly lob­bied against spe­cial-inter­est pol­i­tics.

    For decades they have fund­ed insti­tutes that pro­mote ideas, not pol­i­tics, such as Cato and the Mer­ca­tus Cen­ter. They have always stood for free­dom, equal­i­ty and oppor­tu­ni­ty. Con­sis­tent with their love of lib­er­ty, they have become promi­nent advo­cates for crim­i­nal-jus­tice reform. The Koch broth­ers’ invest­ment in free­dom-lov­ing think tanks will car­ry on for gen­er­a­tions, remind­ing all of us that ideas and con­vic­tions ulti­mate­ly trump all else.

    Feel the love (and get a room you guys!)

    Still, you have to love this line:

    The Koch broth­ers’ invest­ment in free­dom-lov­ing think tanks will car­ry on for gen­er­a­tions, remind­ing all of us that ideas and con­vic­tions ulti­mate­ly trump all else.

    Yes, there’s noth­ing like a giant pile of cash from a bunch of rich guys to remind us all that ideas and con­vic­tion ulti­mate­ly trump all else.

    And that’s why Rand Paul isn’t the only can­di­date for Pres­i­dent of the Koch Broth­ers’ Fan Club: They have such beau­ti­ful minds.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 16, 2015, 10:06 am
  48. Back in Decem­ber, the OECD issued one of those reports that’s remark­able, not for what it said, but for the fact that it need­ed to be said at all. Scam bust­ing is often like that:

    rabble.ca
    Trick­le-down eco­nom­ics? It’s a scam, con­firms OECD
    By Lin­da McQuaig
    | Decem­ber 11, 2014

    No doubt the rich and pow­er­ful have been crack­ing up with laugh­ter for decades over their abil­i­ty to ped­dle “trick­le-down eco­nom­ics” to a trust­ing pub­lic.

    But a sur­pris­ing­ly strong report just released by the pres­ti­gious Orga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co-oper­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD) may cause the pub­lic to regard these wealthy snakeoil sales­men more skep­ti­cal­ly in the future.

    Essen­tial­ly, the OECD report reveals the immen­si­ty of the trick­le-down scam, which the report shows has not only failed to fos­ter eco­nom­ic growth as promised, but has proved to be an over­all killer of eco­nom­ic growth.

    And the report puts actu­al num­bers on how much growth has been reduced as a result of trick­le-down. In the case of Cana­da, the reduced eco­nom­ic growth amounts to about $62 bil­lion a year — which econ­o­mist Toby Sanger notes is almost three times more than the esti­mat­ed annu­al loss to the Cana­di­an econ­o­my of low­er oil prices.

    But while drop­ping oil prices are grab­bing head­lines, the seri­ous neg­a­tive eco­nom­ic con­se­quences of Canada’s pro-rich eco­nom­ic poli­cies are large­ly ignored. Cer­tain­ly the Harp­er gov­ern­ment promis­es to entrench these poli­cies more deeply if re-elect­ed.

    First, a lit­tle back­ground. As the dom­i­nant eco­nom­ic the­o­ry for the past 30 years, trick­le-down eco­nom­ics — also known as Thatch­erism, Reaganomics, neolib­er­al­ism or even just the “aus­ter­i­ty agen­da” — has led to a set of eco­nom­ic poli­cies that have con­cen­trat­ed income and wealth at the top.

    From the out­set, crit­ics charged that, despite its intel­lec­tu­al pre­ten­sions, neolib­er­al­ism was sim­ply a con­fi­dence game aimed at redis­trib­ut­ing resources to the rich.

    Not so, respond­ed most main­stream econ­o­mists (par­tic­u­lar­ly those employed by right-wing think-tanks). Rather, they insist­ed, neolib­er­al poli­cies would — by pro­vid­ing gen­er­ous incen­tives for top per­form­ers and cut­ting back expen­sive social pro­grams — fos­ter over­all eco­nom­ic growth, with ben­e­fits ulti­mate­ly “trick­ling down” to all.

    This unproven claim became the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for impos­ing this large­ly Anglo-Amer­i­can eco­nom­ic the­o­ry on the devel­op­ing world as well. For years, pow­er­ful bod­ies like the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) forced poor coun­tries to adopt rad­i­cal neolib­er­al reforms in order to qual­i­fy for des­per­ate­ly need­ed loans.

    Mean­while, there was mount­ing evi­dence — advanced by Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krug­man and oth­er high-pro­file lib­er­al econ­o­mists — that neolib­er­al poli­cies did lit­tle more than the obvi­ous: mak­ing the rich rich­er, with no ben­e­fits for any­one else.

    In the wake of the 2008 finan­cial col­lapse, even the main­stream inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tions — includ­ing the IMF and the World Bank — began releas­ing stud­ies with find­ings that seemed to con­tra­dict their orga­ni­za­tions’ long­stand­ing sup­port for neolib­er­al ortho­dox­ies.

    With its report this week, the Paris-based OECD has gone far­ther still, stat­ing unequiv­o­cal­ly that its research shows that poli­cies favour­ing the rich haven’t just failed to cre­ate over­all eco­nom­ic growth, they have actu­al­ly “curbed eco­nom­ic growth sig­nif­i­cant­ly.”

    Indeed, accord­ing to the OECD, the dra­mat­ic increase in income inequal­i­ty — now at its high­est lev­el in 30 years — is the “sin­gle biggest impact” pre­vent­ing eco­nom­ic growth.

    This drag on eco­nom­ic growth, the OECD explains, results large­ly from those low­er down the income scale — includ­ing the bot­tom 40 per cent of earn­ers — lack­ing the funds to invest in their own edu­ca­tion.

    ...

    The OECD stress­es the need “not only for cash trans­fers, but also increas­ing access to pub­lic ser­vices, such as high-qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, train­ing and health­care” — areas where Harper’s planned cut­backs to the provinces will hit hard.

    What’s strik­ing about the entrench­ment of poli­cies favour­ing inequal­i­ty is how out of sync they appear to be with pop­u­lar will.

    Accord­ing to inter­na­tion­al research co-authored by the Har­vard Busi­ness School’s Michael Nor­ton, there’s an almost uni­ver­sal desire out there for a small­er gap between the pay of cor­po­rate CEOs and ordi­nary work­ers.

    Nor­ton sur­veyed the lev­el of inequal­i­ty favoured by peo­ple in 16 West­ern coun­tries and found it wild­ly out of whack with the actu­al lev­el of inequal­i­ty in their coun­tries.

    For instance, if CEO com­pen­sa­tion were to remain at its cur­rent heights, in order to achieve the lev­el of inequal­i­ty desired by most Amer­i­cans, the pay of the aver­age U.S. work­er would have to be increased … to $1.8 mil­lion a year.

    While the world’s elite may still be slap­ping their knees and mar­vel­ling at what they’ve man­aged to pull off, the fact that the most pres­ti­gious inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic bod­ies have lined up against trick­le-down ortho­doxy may mean there are now prospects for real change.

    At the least, it sug­gests that, in a show­down with the world’s bil­lion­aires and mul­ti-mil­lion­aires, the world’s peo­ple may actu­al­ly stand an out­side chance.

    ...

    Well that was sort of uplift­ing:

    ...
    For instance, if CEO com­pen­sa­tion were to remain at its cur­rent heights, in order to achieve the lev­el of inequal­i­ty desired by most Amer­i­cans, the pay of the aver­age U.S. work­er would have to be increased … to $1.8 mil­lion a year.

    While the world’s elite may still be slap­ping their knees and mar­vel­ling at what they’ve man­aged to pull off, the fact that the most pres­ti­gious inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic bod­ies have lined up against trick­le-down ortho­doxy may mean there are now prospects for real change.

    At the least, it sug­gests that, in a show­down with the world’s bil­lion­aires and mul­ti-mil­lion­aires, the world’s peo­ple may actu­al­ly stand an out­side chance.
    ...

    Woohoo! We may actu­al­ly stand an out­side chance. Bet­ter than noth­ing!

    But, of course, what makes the trick­le down scam so much more sin­is­ter than your stan­dard scam is that, as the arti­cle point­ed out, it’s not like the scam sim­ply worked by trick­ing the mass­es into think­ing mak­ing the rich rich­er and poor poor­er was a path to pros­per­i­ty:

    ...
    What’s strik­ing about the entrench­ment of poli­cies favour­ing inequal­i­ty is how out of sync they appear to be with pop­u­lar will.

    Accord­ing to inter­na­tion­al research co-authored by the Har­vard Busi­ness School’s Michael Nor­ton, there’s an almost uni­ver­sal desire out there for a small­er gap between the pay of cor­po­rate CEOs and ordi­nary work­ers.

    Nor­ton sur­veyed the lev­el of inequal­i­ty favoured by peo­ple in 16 West­ern coun­tries and found it wild­ly out of whack with the actu­al lev­el of inequal­i­ty in their coun­tries.
    ...

    And keep in mind that, accord­ing to recent stud­ies, the pub­lic does­n’t just oppose the absurd income gap. Both Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans have been large­ly clue­less about just had bad it is even when they assume it’s bad.

    And since one of the mega-trends of the last 30 years has been the hijack­ing and per­ver­sion of the demo­c­ra­t­ic process by pow­er­ful pri­vate inter­ests, it’s not actu­al­ly clear how suc­cess­ful the pro­les are going to be in revers­ing this trend even if they do final­ly learn things like:

    ...accord­ing to the OECD, the dra­mat­ic increase in income inequal­i­ty — now at its high­est lev­el in 30 years — is the “sin­gle biggest impact” pre­vent­ing eco­nom­ic growth.
    ...

    The super rich obvi­ous­ly aren’t going to care if their pet poli­cies are sti­fling eco­nom­ic growth even if stran­gling the econ­o­my with trick­le down poli­cies is mak­ing every­one else poor­er because that just means they’re max­i­miz­ing their rel­a­tive wealth and pow­er even if they aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly max­i­miz­ing the absolute wealth. Isn’t rel­a­tive wealth the real met­ric here from a pow­er stand­point?

    So hope­ful­ly enough of the pro­les will even­tu­al­ly real­ize that they’re actu­al­ly get­ting screwed way more than they think they’re get­ting screwed. And, along those lines, hope­ful­ly rep­e­ti­tion works. Because the OECD just issued a new report reit­er­at­ing those same find­ings:

    Ris­ing tide not lift­ing all ships, OECD warns in report on cost of grow­ing income inequal­i­ty
    By GREG KELLER Asso­ci­at­ed Press
    May 21, 2015 — 4:55am

    PARIS — The widen­ing gap between haves and have-nots in much of the devel­oped world not only rais­es con­cerns about the fray­ing social fab­ric — it’s also dra­mat­i­cal­ly hold­ing back eco­nom­ic growth, accord­ing to a new glob­al study.

    Far from a ris­ing tide lift­ing all ships, income inequal­i­ty increas­es in good eco­nom­ic times as well as bad, Thurs­day’s report from the Orga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nom­ic Coop­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment says.

    The OECD, a glob­al watch­dog, says that not only has social and polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions but also eco­nom­ic ones.

    “Put sim­ply: ris­ing inequal­i­ty is bad for long-term growth,” the OECD con­clud­ed in its report, “In It Togeth­er, Why Less Inequal­i­ty Ben­e­fits All.”

    ...

    The report adds fuel to the argu­ment pop­u­lar­ized in French econ­o­mist Thomas Piket­ty’s 2014 best-sell­er “Cap­i­tal in the Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry.”

    Poli­cies to improve wom­en’s treat­ment in the labor mar­ket and mea­sures to reverse the grow­ing share of low-qual­i­ty, “dead-end” jobs are key to reduc­ing income inequal­i­ty and unlock­ing more eco­nom­ic growth, the OECD said.

    Well, good for the OECD in stat­ing the obvi­ous. And let’s hope the OECD don’t pull an ‘IMF’ and sud­den­ly for­get what it learned.

    But let’s also hope that the solu­tion to income inequal­i­ty involves a lot more than than the OECD’s rec­om­men­da­tions:

    Poli­cies to improve wom­en’s treat­ment in the labor mar­ket and mea­sures to reverse the grow­ing share of low-qual­i­ty, “dead-end” jobs are key to reduc­ing income inequal­i­ty and unlock­ing more eco­nom­ic growth, the OECD said.

    While those are obvi­ous­ly pos­i­tive steps, keep in mind that, for this kind of mass income inequal­i­ty gap emerge while the pub­lic remains pret­ty much with­out the pub­lic’s knowl­edge. So, yes, we cer­tain­ly need to give peo­ple bet­ter pay­ing jobs, espe­cial­ly at the low end of the pay scale. But it’s also pret­ty obvi­ous that every­one (except maybe the super-rich) need to just know more, in gen­er­al, about what’s going on in the world so they can at least try to change the trick­le down poli­cies. And that’s not going to nec­es­sar­i­ly hap­pen even with ris­ing wages unless that bet­ter pay results in more time to do things like pick­ing up a news­pa­per.

    In oth­er words, one of the best rec­om­men­da­tions the OECD could have giv­en for end­ing income inequal­i­ty is to have every­one tell every­one they know about the OECD report. Trick­le down eco­nom­ics is going to have a much hard­er time sur­viv­ing when every­one is in on the joke.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 22, 2015, 3:46 pm
  49. With a vote as soon as Fri­day on grant­i­ng “fast-track” nego­ti­at­ing author­i­ty to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma over the Trans Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP), as well as any trade agree­ments to be hashed out in the next admin­is­tra­tion, inter­est groups going to be in lob­by­ing fren­zy this week.

    When a major trade deal like the TPP is hang­ing in the bal­ance it’s only nat­ur­al to be con­cerned about what sort of impact it could have on your life and employ­ment prospect. Well, fear not: If the TPP pass­es it’s guar­an­teed to to cre­ate all sorts of high pay­ing jobs! You’ll just need to fig­ure out how to retrain your­self to take advan­tage of it. Specif­i­cal­ly, you’ll just need to retrain your­self as a cor­po­rate lawyer with a spe­cial­ty in inter­na­tion­al arbi­tra­tion. You should have no prob­lem find­ing work all over the world:

    The New York Times
    Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship Seen as Door for For­eign Suits Against U.S.

    By JONATHAN WEISMAN
    MARCH 25, 2015

    WASHINGTON — An ambi­tious 12-nation trade accord pushed by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma would allow for­eign cor­po­ra­tions to sue the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment for actions that under­mine their invest­ment “expec­ta­tions” and hurt their busi­ness, accord­ing to a clas­si­fied doc­u­ment.

    The Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship — a cor­ner­stone of Mr. Obama’s remain­ing eco­nom­ic agen­da — would grant broad pow­ers to multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies oper­at­ing in North Amer­i­ca, South Amer­i­ca and Asia. Under the accord, still under nego­ti­a­tion but near­ing com­ple­tion, com­pa­nies and investors would be empow­ered to chal­lenge reg­u­la­tions, rules, gov­ern­ment actions and court rul­ings — fed­er­al, state or local — before tri­bunals orga­nized under the World Bank or the Unit­ed Nations.

    Back­ers of the emerg­ing trade accord, which is sup­port­ed by a wide vari­ety of busi­ness groups and favored by most Repub­li­cans, say that it is in line with pre­vi­ous agree­ments that con­tain sim­i­lar pro­vi­sions. But crit­ics, includ­ing many Democ­rats in Con­gress, argue that the planned deal widens the open­ing for multi­na­tion­als to sue in the Unit­ed States and else­where, giv­ing greater pri­or­i­ty to pro­tect­ing cor­po­rate inter­ests than pro­mot­ing free trade and com­pe­ti­tion that ben­e­fits con­sumers.

    The chap­ter in the draft of the trade deal, dat­ed Jan. 20, 2015, and obtained by The New York Times in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the group Wik­iLeaks, is cer­tain to kin­dle oppo­si­tion from both the polit­i­cal left and the right. The sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue is reflect­ed in the fact that the cov­er man­dates that the chap­ter not be declas­si­fied until four years after the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship comes into force or trade nego­ti­a­tions end, should the agree­ment fail.

    Con­ser­v­a­tives are like­ly to be incensed that even local pol­i­cy changes could send the gov­ern­ment to a Unit­ed Nations-sanc­tioned tri­bunal. On the left, Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren, Demo­c­rat of Mass­a­chu­setts, law pro­fes­sors and a host of lib­er­al activists have expressed fears the pro­vi­sions would infringe on Unit­ed States sov­er­eign­ty and impinge on gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion involv­ing busi­ness­es in bank­ing, tobac­co, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and oth­er sec­tors.

    Mem­bers of Con­gress have been review­ing the secret doc­u­ment in secure read­ing rooms, but this is the first dis­clo­sure to the pub­lic since an ear­ly ver­sion leaked in 2012.

    “This is real­ly trou­bling,” said Sen­a­tor Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Demo­c­rat. “It seems to indi­cate that savvy, deep-pock­et­ed for­eign con­glom­er­ates could chal­lenge a broad range of laws we pass at every lev­el of gov­ern­ment, such as made-in-Amer­i­ca laws or anti-tobac­co laws. I think peo­ple on both sides of the aisle will have trou­ble with this.”

    The Unit­ed States Trade Representative’s Office dis­missed such con­cerns as overblown. Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said oppo­nents were using hypo­thet­i­cal cas­es to stoke irra­tional fear when an actu­al record exists that should soothe wor­ries.

    Such “Investor-State Dis­pute Set­tle­ment” accords exist already in more than 3,000 trade agree­ments across the globe. The Unit­ed States is par­ty to 51, includ­ing the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment. Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials say they lev­el the play­ing field for Amer­i­can com­pa­nies doing busi­ness abroad, pro­tect prop­er­ty from gov­ern­ment seizure and ensure access to inter­na­tion­al jus­tice.

    But the lim­it­ed use of trade tri­bunals, crit­ics argue, is because com­pa­nies in those coun­tries do not have the size, legal bud­gets and mar­ket pow­er to come after gov­ern­ments in the Unit­ed States. The Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship could change all that, they say. The agree­ment would expand that author­i­ty to investors in coun­tries as wealthy as Japan and Aus­tralia, with sophis­ti­cat­ed com­pa­nies deeply invest­ed in the Unit­ed States.

    “U.S.T.R. will say the U.S. has nev­er lost a case, but you’re going to see a lot more chal­lenges in the future,” said Sen­a­tor Sher­rod Brown, Demo­c­rat of Ohio. “There’s a huge pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow for these com­pa­nies.”

    ...

    Sim­i­lar chap­ters exist in the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment and the Cen­tral Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, but their use has been lim­it­ed against the Unit­ed States. Over 25 years, accord­ing to the trade representative’s office, the Unit­ed States has faced only 17 investor-state cas­es, 13 of which went before tri­bunals. The Unit­ed States has lost none.

    Civ­il courts in the Unit­ed States are already open to action by for­eign investors and com­pa­nies. Since 1993, while the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment was defend­ing itself against those 17 cas­es brought through extra­ju­di­cial trade tri­bunals, it was sued 700,000 times in domes­tic courts.

    In all, accord­ing to Pub­lic Citizen’s Glob­al Trade Watch, about 9,000 for­eign-owned firms oper­at­ing in the Unit­ed States would be empow­ered to bring cas­es against gov­ern­ments here. Those are as diverse as tim­ber and min­ing com­pa­nies in Aus­tralia and invest­ment con­glom­er­ates from Chi­na whose sub­sidiaries in Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship coun­tries like Viet­nam and New Zealand also have ven­tures in the Unit­ed States.

    More than 18,000 com­pa­nies based in the Unit­ed States would gain new pow­ers to go after the oth­er 11 coun­tries in the accord.

    A sim­i­lar accord under nego­ti­a­tion with Europe has already pro­voked an out­cry there.

    Sen­a­tor Brown con­tend­ed that the over­all accord, not just the invest­ment pro­vi­sions, was trou­bling. “This con­tin­ues the great Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of cor­po­ra­tions writ­ing trade agree­ments, shar­ing them with almost nobody, so often at the expense of con­sumers, pub­lic health and work­ers,” he said.

    Under the terms of the Pacif­ic trade chap­ter, for­eign investors could demand cash com­pen­sa­tion if mem­ber nations “expro­pri­ate or nation­al­ize a cov­ered invest­ment either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly.” Oppo­nents fear “indi­rect expro­pri­a­tion” will be inter­pret­ed broad­ly, espe­cial­ly by deep-pock­et­ed multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies oppos­ing reg­u­la­to­ry or legal changes that dimin­ish the val­ue of their invest­ments.

    Includ­ed in the def­i­n­i­tion of “indi­rect expro­pri­a­tion” is gov­ern­ment action that “inter­feres with dis­tinct, rea­son­able invest­ment-backed expec­ta­tions,” accord­ing to the leaked doc­u­ment.

    The cost can be high. In 2012, one such tri­bunal, under the aus­pices of the World Bank’s Inter­na­tion­al Cen­tre for Set­tle­ment of Invest­ment Dis­putes, ordered Ecuador to pay Occi­den­tal Petro­le­um a record $2.3 bil­lion for expro­pri­at­ing oil drilling rights.

    Under the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship, a mem­ber nation would be for­bid­den from favor­ing “goods pro­duced in its ter­ri­to­ry.”

    Crit­ics say the text’s def­i­n­i­tion of an invest­ment is so broad that it could open enor­mous avenues of legal chal­lenge. An invest­ment includes “every asset that an investor owns or con­trols, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, that has the char­ac­ter­is­tic of an invest­ment,” includ­ing “reg­u­la­to­ry per­mits; intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights; finan­cial instru­ments such as stocks and deriv­a­tives”; con­struc­tion, man­age­ment, pro­duc­tion, con­ces­sion, rev­enue-shar­ing and oth­er sim­i­lar con­tracts; and “licens­es, autho­riza­tions, per­mits and sim­i­lar rights con­ferred pur­suant to domes­tic law.”

    “This is not about expro­pri­a­tion; it’s about reg­u­la­to­ry changes,” said Lori Wal­lach, direc­tor of Glob­al Trade Watch and a fierce oppo­nent of the Pacif­ic accord. “You now have spe­cial­ized law firms being set up. You go to them, tell them what coun­try you’re in, what reg­u­la­tion you want to go after, and they say ‘We’ll do it on con­tin­gency.’”

    In 2013, Eli Lil­ly took advan­tage of a sim­i­lar pro­vi­sion under Naf­ta to sue Cana­da for $500 mil­lion, accus­ing Ottawa of vio­lat­ing its oblig­a­tions to for­eign investors by allow­ing its courts to inval­i­date patents for two of its drugs.

    All of those dis­putes would be adju­di­cat­ed under rules set by either the Inter­na­tion­al Cen­tre for Set­tle­ment of Invest­ment Dis­putes or the Unit­ed Nations Com­mis­sion on Inter­na­tion­al Trade Law.

    The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion pressed for — and won — clear trans­paren­cy rules man­dat­ing that tri­bunals be open to the pub­lic and arbi­tra­tion doc­u­ments be avail­able online. Out­side par­ties would also be allowed to file briefs.

    “Here’s what I can tell you as these nego­ti­a­tions pro­ceed,” Pres­i­dent Oba­ma told reporters in Brus­sels last year when ques­tioned on the trade deals in the works. “I have fought my entire polit­i­cal career and as pres­i­dent to strength­en con­sumer pro­tec­tions. I have no inten­tion of sign­ing leg­is­la­tion that would weak­en those pro­tec­tions.”

    There are oth­er mit­i­gat­ing pro­vi­sions, but many have catch­es. For instance, one arti­cle states that “noth­ing in this chap­ter” should pre­vent a mem­ber coun­try from reg­u­lat­ing invest­ment activ­i­ty for “envi­ron­men­tal, health or oth­er reg­u­la­to­ry objec­tives.” But that safe­ty valve says such reg­u­la­tion must be “con­sis­tent” with the oth­er stric­tures of the chap­ter, a pro­vi­sion even admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said ren­dered the clause more polit­i­cal than legal.

    One of the chapter’s annex­es states that reg­u­la­to­ry actions meant “to pro­tect legit­i­mate pub­lic wel­fare objec­tives, such as pub­lic health, safe­ty and the envi­ron­ment” do not con­sti­tute indi­rect expro­pri­a­tion, “except in rare cir­cum­stances.” That final excep­tion could open such reg­u­la­tions to legal sec­ond-guess­ing, crit­ics say.

    That’s quite a help want­ed ad:

    ...
    In all, accord­ing to Pub­lic Citizen’s Glob­al Trade Watch, about 9,000 for­eign-owned firms oper­at­ing in the Unit­ed States would be empow­ered to bring cas­es against gov­ern­ments here. Those are as diverse as tim­ber and min­ing com­pa­nies in Aus­tralia and invest­ment con­glom­er­ates from Chi­na whose sub­sidiaries in Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship coun­tries like Viet­nam and New Zealand also have ven­tures in the Unit­ed States.

    More than 18,000 com­pa­nies based in the Unit­ed States would gain new pow­ers to go after the oth­er 11 coun­tries in the accord.
    ...

    Have you picked out your law school yet? No? Well keep look­ing.

    And don’t assume you’re going to have to work as a cor­po­rate lawyer in our new glob­al­ized cor­po­rate legal sys­tem. Because whether or not the TPP becomes law, the world still needs more lawyers. Espe­cial­ly the anti-cor­po­rate kind of lawyers. We’re going to need a lot more of those:

    Think Progress
    Why These Tiny Island Nations Are Plan­ning To Sue Fos­sil Fuel Com­pa­nies

    by Natasha Geil­ing Post­ed
    on June 10, 2015 at 8:00 am Updat­ed: June 10, 2015 at 9:34 am

    On Mon­day, the sev­en of the world’s wealth­i­est nations met in south­ern Ger­many and pledged to decar­bonize the world’s ener­gy sys­tems by 2100, while lim­it­ing glob­al warm­ing to 2°C.

    Lat­er that evening, in the South Pacif­ic, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from six decid­ed­ly small­er coun­tries also took a stand against cli­mate change. Under the People’s Dec­la­ra­tion for Cli­mate Jus­tice, cit­i­zens from the nations of Van­u­atu, Kiri­bati, Tuvalu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and the Philip­pines announced their intent to bring legal action against fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies for their role in con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change.

    “As the peo­ple most acute­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the impacts of cli­mate change, we will not let the big pol­luters decide and assign our fate,” the dec­la­ra­tion reads. “We refuse to accept the ‘new nor­mal’ and demand for cli­mate jus­tice by hold­ing the big pol­luters and their respec­tive gov­ern­ments to account for their con­tri­bu­tion to the cli­mate cri­sis.”

    In con­junc­tion with the dec­la­ra­tion, Green­peace South­east Asia is plan­ning to sub­mit a peti­tion to the Philip­pines Com­mis­sion on Human Rights, request­ing that the com­mis­sion open an inves­ti­ga­tion into the role of major pol­luters in human rights vio­la­tions from cli­mate change.

    “The pow­er of this dec­la­ra­tion is that it rep­re­sents what I think is a grow­ing move­ment of peo­ple who are no longer patient­ly wait­ing for gov­ern­ments to address the chal­lenges of cli­mate change, and who are actu­al­ly say­ing, ‘We are going to use the legal mech­a­nism avail­able to us in our courts, in your courts, and human rights bod­ies to hold you, the pol­luters, account­able for the human rights vio­la­tions we are suf­fer­ing,’” Car­roll Muf­fett, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Cen­ter for Inter­na­tion­al Envi­ron­men­tal Law, told ThinkProgress.

    In late March, Cyclone Pam ripped through the tiny island nation of Van­u­atu, killing 24, dis­plac­ing 3,300, and destroy­ing 90 per­cent of the island’s infra­struc­ture. A week lat­er, three more trop­i­cal storms had cir­cled through the South Pacif­ic, pound­ing the region’s island nations with wind and rain.

    ...

    The dec­la­ra­tion doesn’t direct­ly trans­late into legal action — and the island nations could face sev­er­al hur­dles before their com­plaints are even heard in a court, accord­ing to David Hunter, direc­tor of the Pro­gram on Inter­na­tion­al and Com­par­a­tive Envi­ron­men­tal Law at Amer­i­can University’s Wash­ing­ton Col­lege of Law.

    “If you are cit­i­zens in Fiji and you want to sue Chevron, you’re going to have juris­dic­tion­al ques­tions,” Hunter told ThinkProgress, not­ing that the nations could also run up against issues if they try to bring a case in the Unit­ed States because of pre­emp­tion from fed­er­al laws like the Clean Air Act. But, Hunter said, the nations have log­ic on their side.

    “Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, if we look at this in the sim­plest form, they are peo­ple that are suf­fer­ing from actions that com­pa­nies and oth­ers have been involved in,” he said. “If we think about the legal sys­tem as try­ing to rem­e­dy an injus­tice or an injury, then you have injury and can prob­a­bly demon­strate cau­sa­tion from the burn­ing of fos­sil fuels to ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion or sea lev­el rise.”

    Prov­ing cau­sa­tion used to be a major hur­dle for plain­tiffs hop­ing to hold pol­luters account­able for cli­mate change, but both Hunter and Muf­fett said that improved sci­ence is get­ting increas­ing­ly bet­ter at link­ing spe­cif­ic harm to spe­cif­ic actors.

    In late March, a farmer in Peru filed a com­plaint with the Ger­man ener­gy com­pa­ny RWE, demand­ing that the com­pa­ny pay for the cost of pro­tec­tive mea­sures he’s been forced to install on his home. His home lies in the flood­path of the Pal­ca­cocha lake, which is threat­en­ing to over­flow as the glac­i­ers that feed it con­tin­ue to melt due to cli­mate change.

    “This was not some­one say­ing, ‘I’m gen­er­al­ly con­cerned about the impacts of cli­mate change on my coun­try,’” Muf­fett said. “This was some­one that could point to sci­en­tif­ic data pro­duced by his own gov­ern­ment say­ing the water behind this spe­cif­ic dam is ris­ing because of cli­mate change.”

    Anoth­er defense that defen­dants in cli­mate lit­i­ga­tion cas­es can use is the prin­ci­ple that car­bon pol­lu­tion is a glob­al prob­lem. The argu­ment large­ly goes that if every­one is caus­ing the prob­lem, then no sin­gle actor can be held respon­si­ble. But research pub­lished in 2013 in the jour­nal Cli­mat­ic Change is mak­ing that defense more dif­fi­cult for fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies.

    In that study, researcher Richard Heede, from the Cli­mate Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute, tried to divvy up respon­si­bil­i­ty for man-made glob­al warm­ing emis­sions. What Heede found was that although there are thou­sands of oil and gas com­pa­nies through­out the world, the major­i­ty of emis­sions can be traced back to a hand­ful of par­tic­i­pants — rough­ly two-thirds of indus­tri­al emis­sions come from just 90 enti­ties, 50 of which were investor-owned com­pa­nies.

    “Courts may not be able to deal with 6 bil­lion defen­dants, or 1 bil­lion, but courts are very com­fort­able with 50,” Muf­fett said, not­ing that the con­cept of joint and sev­er­al lia­bil­i­ty was, in essence, cre­at­ed to deal with cas­es where sev­er­al defen­dants con­tributed to harm­ing the plain­tiff.

    The South Pacif­ic nations are just the lat­est in a slew of plain­tiffs hop­ing to use lit­i­ga­tion to spur action on cli­mate change. In April, some 900 Dutch cit­i­zens filed a law­suit against their gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to effec­tive­ly curb cli­mate change. There is a sim­i­lar move­ment under­way in Bel­gium, where a law­suit against the gov­ern­ment is in its ear­ly stages. And through­out the Unit­ed States, Our Children’s Trust — an Ore­gon-based non­prof­it — has launched sev­er­al youth-led law­suits against var­i­ous state and fed­er­al enti­ties for fail­ing to stop cli­mate change.

    To Muf­fett, this grow­ing suite of law­suits sig­nals a turn­ing point in the fight against pol­luters.

    “If you think about tobac­co lit­i­ga­tion, one case after anoth­er lost and lost and lost until the nature of the plain­tiffs start­ed chang­ing and start­ed grow­ing, and sud­den­ly the tobac­co com­pa­nies start­ed los­ing,” Muf­fett said. “I think that’s the stage we’re at with cli­mate change.”

    Have you got your envi­ron­men­tal law cours­es picked out yet? If not, read this again:

    ...
    Anoth­er defense that defen­dants in cli­mate lit­i­ga­tion cas­es can use is the prin­ci­ple that car­bon pol­lu­tion is a glob­al prob­lem. The argu­ment large­ly goes that if every­one is caus­ing the prob­lem, then no sin­gle actor can be held respon­si­ble. But research pub­lished in 2013 in the jour­nal Cli­mat­ic Change is mak­ing that defense more dif­fi­cult for fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies.

    In that study, researcher Richard Heede, from the Cli­mate Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute, tried to divvy up respon­si­bil­i­ty for man-made glob­al warm­ing emis­sions. What Heede found was that although there are thou­sands of oil and gas com­pa­nies through­out the world, the major­i­ty of emis­sions can be traced back to a hand­ful of par­tic­i­pants — rough­ly two-thirds of indus­tri­al emis­sions come from just 90 enti­ties, 50 of which were investor-owned com­pa­nies.

    “Courts may not be able to deal with 6 bil­lion defen­dants, or 1 bil­lion, but courts are very com­fort­able with 50,” Muf­fett said, not­ing that the con­cept of joint and sev­er­al lia­bil­i­ty was, in essence, cre­at­ed to deal with cas­es where sev­er­al defen­dants con­tributed to harm­ing the plain­tiff.
    ...

    As we can see, TPP or not, it’s time for school. Some ‘peo­ple’ need to be taught a les­son.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 10, 2015, 3:20 pm
  50. Remem­ber when Home Depot founder Ken Lan­gone joined hedge fund bil­lion­aire Tom Perkins in trolling the pub­lic by pro­claim­ing that all the com­plaints about bil­lion­aires tak­ing over the econ­o­my and the grow­ing wealth gap were just like what the Nazis did? Well, he’s back. And he’s upped his game. Now Lan­gone and a pair of bil­lion­aire friends say they’re super wor­ried about the wealth gap, and have an idea for how to fix it: have the gov­ern­ment pay com­pa­nies to give rais­es:

    Salon
    Bil­lion­aire CEOs come to Jesus: “We are cre­at­ing a caste sys­tem from which it’s almost impos­si­ble to escape”
    Peter Georges­cu, Ken Lan­gone and oth­er indus­try titans are slow­ly real­iz­ing income inequal­i­ty is bad for busi­ness

    Jim High­tow­er
    Sun­day, Aug 30, 2015 07:00 AM CST

    Peter Georges­cu has a mes­sage he wants America’s cor­po­rate and polit­i­cal elites to hear: “I’m scared,” he said in a recent New York Times opin­ion piece.

    He adds that Paul Tudor Jones is scared, too, as is Ken Lan­gone. And they are try­ing to get the Pow­ers That Be to pay atten­tion to their urgent con­cerns. But wait — these three are Pow­ers That Be. Georges­cu is for­mer head of Young & Rubi­cam, one of the world’s largest PR and adver­tis­ing firms; Jones is a quadru­ple-bil­lion­aire and hedge fund oper­a­tor; and Lan­gone is a founder of Home Depot.

    What is scar­ing the pants off these pow­er­ful peers of the cor­po­rate plu­toc­ra­cy? Inequal­i­ty. Yes, amaz­ing­ly, these actu­al occu­piers of Wall Street say they share Occu­py Wall Street’s crit­i­cal analy­sis of America’s widen­ing chasm between the rich and the rest of us. “We are cre­at­ing a caste sys­tem from which it’s almost impos­si­ble to escape,” Georges­cu wrote, not only trap­ping the poor, but also “those on the high­er end of the mid­dle class.” He issued a clar­i­on call for his cor­po­rate peers to reverse the dan­ger­ous and ever-widen­ing gulf of income inequal­i­ty in our coun­try by increas­ing the pay­checks of America’s worka­day major­i­ty. “We busi­ness lead­ers know what to do. But do we have the will to do it? Are we will­ing to con­trol the exces­sive greed so preva­lent in our cul­ture today and divert resources to bet­ter edu­ca­tion and the cre­ation of more oppor­tu­ni­ty?”

    Right on, Peter! How­ev­er, their con­cern is not dri­ven by moral out­rage at the injus­tice of it all, but by self-inter­est: “We are con­cerned where income inequal­i­ty will lead,” he said. Specif­i­cal­ly, he warned that one of two hor­rors awaits the elites if they stick to the present path: social unrest (con­jur­ing up images of the guil­lo­tine) or (hor­ror of hor­rors) “oppres­sive tax­es” on the super­rich.

    Moti­va­tion aside, Georges­cu does com­pre­hend the rem­e­dy that our soci­ety must have: “Invest in the actu­al val­ue cre­ators — the employ­ees,” he writes. “Start com­pen­sat­ing fair­ly (with) a wage that enables employ­ees to share amply in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty increas­es and cre­ative inno­va­tions.” They have talked with oth­er cor­po­rate chief­tains and found “almost unan­i­mous agree­ment” on the need to com­pen­sate employ­ees bet­ter.

    reat! So they’ll just do it, right? Uh … no. But he says he knows just the thing that’ll jar the CEOs into action: “Gov­ern­ment can pro­vide tax incen­tives to busi­ness to pay more to employ­ees.” That’s his big idea. Yes, cor­po­rate wage-hike sub­si­dies. He actu­al­ly wants us tax­pay­ers to give mon­ey to bloat­ed, uber-rich cor­po­ra­tions so they can pay a dab more to their employ­ees!

    As Lily Tom­lin said, “No mat­ter how cyn­i­cal you become, it’s nev­er enough to keep up.”

    First of all, Georges­cu pro­pos­es this tax give­away to the cor­po­rate elite could “exist for three to five years and then be eval­u­at­ed for effec­tive­ness.” Much like the Bush tax cuts that helped dri­ve the eco­nom­ic divide, once the cor­po­rate chief­tains get a taste for a gov­ern­ment hand­out, they will send their lawyers and lob­by­ists to Wash­ing­ton to schmooze con­gress crit­ters into mak­ing the tax sub­sidy per­ma­nent.

    Sec­ond­ly, pay­ing to get “good behav­ior” would reward bad behav­ior, com­plete­ly absolv­ing those very CEOs and wealthy share­hold­ers of their guilt in cre­at­ing today’s gross inequal­i­ty. After all, they are the ones who have pushed relent­less­ly for 30 years to dis­em­pow­er labor unions, down­size and pri­va­tize the work­force, send jobs off­shore, defund edu­ca­tion and social pro­grams and oth­er­wise dis­man­tle the frame­work that once sus­tained America’s healthy mid­dle class. These guys put the “sin” in cyn­i­cal.

    ...

    Don­ald Trump had bet­ter watch out, he could have bil­lion­aire com­pe­ti­tion. Bil­lion­aire art com­pe­ti­tion. Prob­a­bly not polit­i­cal com­peti­ton. But it’s still pret­ty inter­est­ing to see a trio of bil­lion­aires like Ken Lan­gone come out with a pro­pos­al like this right when the US polit­i­cal sea­son warm­ing up. Espe­cial­ly when Don­ald Trump is crush­ing his GOP com­pe­ti­tion with not just his Trumpian brava­do but also high­ly unortho­dox GOP stances like rais­ing tax­es on hedge fund man­agers.

    And it rais­es the ques­tion: If you’re a bil­lion­aire that equates crack downs on Wall Street abus­es with the Nazi oppres­sion, would the sum­mer of Trump nec­es­sar­i­ly be all that reas­sur­ing? Might you actu­al­ly being pray­ing for some seri­ous anti-Trump com­pe­ti­tion at this point? After all, if Don­ald Trump does some­how become our Dear Leader in 2016, it’s pret­ty clear that this is the kind of guy that does­n’t sim­ply rule by decree and brava­do. He rules by spec­ta­cle, and what greater spec­ta­cle could Trump use to endear him­self with the rab­ble than cre­at­ing the hedge fund bil­lion­aire equiv­a­lent of a human sac­ri­fice? That would be PR gold!

    Sure, it’s pos­si­ble that noth­ing Trump says is pre­dic­tive of what his actu­al poli­cies would end up being if elect­ed, but keep in mind that Trump does­n’t have to actu­al­ly get elect­ed to make all of the sup­port­ers of the “tra­di­tion­al” Grover-Norquist-style poli­cies seem like bil­lion­aire ass-kissers in com­par­i­son:

    The New York Times
    Increase Tax­es? Talk by Don­ald Trump Alarms G.O.P.

    By ALAN RAPPEPORT
    AUG. 31, 2015

    WASHINGTON — For years, Repub­li­cans have run for office on promis­es of cut­ting tax­es and bol­ster­ing busi­ness to stim­u­late eco­nom­ic growth, pledg­ing alle­giance to a Rea­ganesque mod­el of con­ser­vatism that has large­ly become the party’s ortho­doxy.

    But this elec­tion cycle, the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who cur­rent­ly leads in most polls is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent approach, and it is jan­gling the nerves of some of the party’s most tra­di­tion­al sup­port­ers.

    The ten­den­cy of that can­di­date, the bil­lion­aire devel­op­er Don­ald J. Trump, to make provoca­tive, head­line-grab­bing speech­es has helped obscure an emerg­ing set of beliefs: that he would raise tax­es in cer­tain areas, par­tic­u­lar­ly on cor­po­ra­tions that he believes do not act in the best inter­ests of the Unit­ed States.

    In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has threat­ened to impose tar­iffs on Amer­i­can com­pa­nies that put their fac­to­ries in oth­er coun­tries. He has sug­gest­ed he would increase tax­es on the com­pen­sa­tion of hedge fund man­agers. And he has vowed to change laws that allow Amer­i­can com­pa­nies to ben­e­fit from cheap­er tax rates by using merg­ers to base their oper­a­tions out­side the Unit­ed States.

    Alarmed that those ideas might catch on with some of Mr. Trump’s Repub­li­can rivals — as his immi­gra­tion poli­cies have — the Club for Growth, an anti-tax think tank, is pulling togeth­er a team of econ­o­mists to scru­ti­nize his pro­pos­als and cal­cu­late the eco­nom­ic impact if he is elect­ed.

    “All of those are anti-growth poli­cies,” said David McIn­tosh, the pres­i­dent of the Club for Growth, a group that Repub­li­can can­di­dates rou­tine­ly court. “Yes he’s a busi­ness­man, but if those are the poli­cies he imple­ments, they’ll dri­ve the econ­o­my into the ground and we’ll see huge drops in G.D.P., and frankly I think it would lead to mas­sive loss of jobs.”

    The issue of tax­ing as ordi­nary income the com­pen­sa­tion of hedge fund man­agers — a share of invest­ment prof­its known as car­ried inter­est — played promi­nent­ly dur­ing the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.. Finan­cial dis­clo­sures revealed that Mitt Rom­ney, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, had paid a rel­a­tive­ly low tax rate over the years because he was earn­ing retire­ment income in such a way from Bain Cap­i­tal, a pri­vate equi­ty firm.

    Invest­ment man­agers gen­er­al­ly pay only a 15 to 20 per­cent cap­i­tal gains tax on prof­its earned from their cus­tomers’ hold­ings, a treat­ment that Democ­rats often argue ampli­fies income inequal­i­ty. Mr. Trump wants fund man­agers to “pay up.”

    ...

    By insert­ing the issues into the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump has turned an obscure effort on Capi­tol Hill into a poten­tial­ly major fight in the nation­al Repub­li­can Par­ty.

    Mr. Trump’s busi­ness acu­men has been one of his biggest sell­ing points with vot­ers. He promis­es that his expe­ri­ence will trans­late into favor­able deals on the glob­al stage and boasts that he can­not be bought by bankers or cor­po­rate lob­by­ists.

    “I don’t want any strings attached,” Mr. Trump often says in his speech­es, point­ing to the big dona­tions he has declined to take from lob­by­ists.

    Mr. Trump has also threat­ened to make com­pa­nies like Ford “pay a price” for shift­ing their pro­duc­tion abroad. And while he claims to be friend­ly with many of them, he has called hedge fund man­agers “paper push­ers” who tend to get lucky on the road to rich­es. The pop­ulist tone is play­ing well with a sub­set of the Repub­li­can elec­torate that is frus­trat­ed with the sta­tus quo, but there are signs that Mr. Trump is begin­ning to alien­ate some in the party’s base.

    “Those aren’t the types of things a typ­i­cal Repub­li­can can­di­date would say,” said Michael R. Strain, a schol­ar at the con­ser­v­a­tive Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute, refer­ring to the candidate’s com­ments on hedge funds, sup­port for enti­tle­ment spend­ing and the impos­ing of trade tar­iffs. “A lot of these things are not things that busi­ness­es would be hap­py about.”

    Grover Norquist, the founder of Amer­i­cans for Tax Reform, is hold­ing out hope for Mr. Trump even though Mr. Trump and for­mer Gov. Jeb Bush of Flori­da are the only lead­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates who have not signed a pledge to not raise tax­es. Mr. Trump said last week that he was still con­sid­er­ing the pledge and that he had no plans for a net tax increase. His sug­ges­tion that he would increase the tax on car­ried inter­est, how­ev­er, has raised eye­brows.

    “I would cer­tain­ly be con­cerned about how that con­ver­sa­tion would con­tin­ue,” Mr. Norquist said. “Democ­rats will take that and say, ‘Now that you’ve con­ced­ed the prin­ci­ple, let’s go fur­ther.’ ”

    While Mr. Norquist said he had no prob­lem with can­di­dates mak­ing bold pro­pos­als for invest­ing in infra­struc­ture — such as bor­der walls and roads — or the mil­i­tary, he thinks it is impor­tant that they detail where they would make req­ui­site bud­get cuts.

    Mr. Trump declined to com­ment on his eco­nom­ic agen­da, and a spokes­woman for his cam­paign said a tax plan would be rolled out in the next few weeks.

    As with many of Mr. Trump’s pol­i­cy ideas, con­fu­sion seems to be keep­ing inter­est­ed par­ties from know­ing exact­ly how to respond. In an inter­view with Fox News last week, Mr. Trump said a flat tax would be a viable improve­ment to America’s tax sys­tem. Moments lat­er, he sug­gest­ed that a flat tax would be unfair because the rich would be taxed at the same rate as the poor.

    “The one prob­lem I have with the flat tax is that rich peo­ple are pay­ing the same as peo­ple that are mak­ing very lit­tle mon­ey,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think there should be a grad­u­a­tion of some kind.”

    Ulti­mate­ly, he has set­tled on sim­pli­fy­ing the tax code as a sen­si­ble first step, say­ing tax­pay­ers spend too much time and mon­ey on their returns. H&R Block, the tax pre­par­er, should be put out of busi­ness, Mr. Trump says.

    “I think it’s tough to real­ly know what he’s think­ing about any of this stuff,” Mr. Strain said.

    Cor­po­rate inver­sions are anoth­er issue on which Mr. Trump’s posi­tions have been slip­pery. This prac­tice — com­pa­nies acquire small­er over­seas firms and move their head­quar­ters to coun­tries with low­er tax­es — has become increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar, cost­ing the Unit­ed States bil­lions of dol­lars in lost rev­enue and draw­ing the ire of Democ­rats in Con­gress. In an inter­view with Time mag­a­zine, Mr. Trump called for a crack­down on inver­sions, but his solu­tion also seemed to sug­gest giv­ing com­pa­nies a tax hol­i­day in exchange for repa­tri­at­ing.

    On Wall Street, Mr. Trump’s attacks on the rich so far have most­ly led to eye rolls and a few winces.

    Antho­ny Scara­muc­ci, a man­ag­ing part­ner of Sky­Bridge Cap­i­tal who sup­ports Gov. Scott Walk­er of Wis­con­sin in the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial race, vis­it­ed Mr. Trump last week to com­plain about the way he was talk­ing about hedge fund man­agers. Still frus­trat­ed, Mr. Scara­muc­ci took to Twit­ter over the week­end to say that Mr. Trump was “mis­in­formed and that he and most of his col­leagues pay the high­est mar­gin­al tax rate.

    Les Funt­ley­der, a port­fo­lio man­ag­er at E Squared Asset Man­age­ment in New York, said Mr. Trump was still wide­ly con­sid­ered to be a long-shot can­di­date in hedge fund and pri­vate equi­ty cir­cles. If his posi­tions on rais­ing tax­es on their busi­ness­es gain trac­tion, Mr. Funt­ley­der sug­gest­ed, then some mem­bers of the finan­cial indus­try will prob­a­bly form a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee or donate to a can­di­date who would tell their side of the sto­ry.

    Until then, how­ev­er, Mr. Trump’s tough talk on busi­ness remains rel­a­tive­ly harm­less to the one-per­cent set.

    “He’s just hit­ting all the pop­ulist high notes,” Mr. Funt­ley­der said, not­ing that hedge fund man­agers are easy tar­gets for politi­cians. “It is unusu­al for a Repub­li­can to say it.”

    “He’s just hit­ting all the pop­ulist high notes...It is unusu­al for a Repub­li­can to say it.”
    It is indeed unusu­al. And in the midst of the high­ly unusu­al ‘Sum­mer of Trump’, we see Ken Lan­gone, a guy who chas­tised the Pope for being too preachy the poor, comes out with an usu­al plan to close the wealth gap by get­ting the gov­ern­ment to pay your boss to give you a raise. That’s not just unusu­al­ly troll­ish. It’s just weird!

    Sure, their ‘pay us to pay you more’ plan was con­sis­tent with the ‘don’t ever raise tax­es on the bil­lion­aires’ phi­los­o­phy of the con­tem­po­rary Norquis­t­ian Amer­i­can oli­garchy. But it’s also such an over the top weird plan that’s guar­an­teed to piss the pub­lic off that you have to won­der if it real­ly was con­ceived of in a moment of pan­ic and these bil­lion­aires real­ly are as scared as they say they are and unable to think straight. Don’t for­get that the torch­es and pitch­forks Wall Street and the oli­garchy fear most may not be in the hands of Occu­py Wall Street. It’s the torch­es and pitch­forks held by the peo­ple that claim to hate the oli­garchs, but some­how keep get­ting suck­ered into doing their bid­ding, that might be the more imme­di­ate source of bil­lion­aire con­cern.

    Or, who knows, maybe all the Trump-induced wor­ries are just the equiv­a­lent of oli­garchy pro-wrestling. That also seems pos­si­ble.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 1, 2015, 6:14 pm

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