Daily Archive: 10/17/2011

Oct 17 2011

Wall Street Whiners

What are those OWS people so angry about?

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Monday, Oct 17, 2011 9:12 AM Eastern Daylight Time

(G)rowing wealth and income inequality, by itself, would not spark massive protests if there were a perception that the top 1% (more accurately thought of as the top .1%) had acquired their gains honestly and legitimately. Americans in particular have been inculcated for decades with the belief that even substantial outcome inequality is acceptable (even desirable) provided that it is the by-product of fairly applied rules. What makes this inequality so infuriating (aside from the human suffering it is generating) is precisely that it is illegitimate: it is caused and bolstered by decisively unfair application of laws and rules, by undemocratic control of the political process by the nation’s oligarchs, and by a full-scale shield of immunity that allows them – and only them – to engage in the most egregious corruption and even criminality without any consequence (other than a further entrenching of their prerogatives and ill-gotten gains).

Anyone who expressed difficulty seeing or understanding what motivates these protests revealed many things about themselves. None is flattering. The only thing that’s surprising is that these protests didn’t happen sooner and that they’re not more widespread and intense. I think it’s become increasingly clear that that is likely to change, and soon. Like the Arab Spring, the rapid growth of these protests should be a permanent antidote against defeatism. It’s unclear what these protests will accomplish – that still depends on how many people join them and what they cause it to be – but, already, they prove that the possibility always exists for subverting even the most seemingly invulnerable power factions. That hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility that these protests are only in their incipient stages is one of the more exciting and positive political developments in some time. It’s been clear for quite awhile that unrest and disruptions – and the fear which they alone can put in the hearts and minds of those responsible for widespread ills – are absolute prerequisites for meaningful reform (our fundamentally corrupted electoral process certainly can’t and won’t accomplish that). These protests at least reflect the possibility, the template, for that to happen. And anyone expressing confusion about why these protests are erupting is almost certainly someone invested in keeping things exactly the way they are.

Losing Their Immunity

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: October 16, 2011

(T)he financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis.

Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the “outrage constraint” that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

Oh, and taxes on the wealthy were, of course, sharply reduced.

All of this was supposed to be justified by results: the paychecks of the wizards of Wall Street were appropriate, we were told, because of the wonderful things they did. Somehow, however, that wonderfulness failed to trickle down to the rest of the nation – and that was true even before the crisis. Median family income, adjusted for inflation, grew only about a fifth as much between 1980 and 2007 as it did in the generation following World War II, even though the postwar economy was marked both by strict financial regulation and by much higher tax rates on the wealthy than anything currently under political discussion.



Money talks in American politics, and what the financial industry’s money has been saying lately is that it will punish any politician who dares to criticize that industry’s behavior, no matter how gently – as evidenced by the way Wall Street money has now abandoned President Obama in favor of Mitt Romney. And this explains the industry’s shock over recent events.

You see, until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again.

And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining.

Oct 17 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: Losing Their Immunity

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow, the response from the movement’s targets has gradually changed: contemptuous dismissal has been replaced by whining. (A reader of my blog suggests that we start calling our ruling class the “kvetchocracy.”) The modern lords of finance look at the protesters and ask, Don’t they understand what we’ve done for the U.S. economy?

The answer is: yes, many of the protesters do understand what Wall Street and more generally the nation’s economic elite have done for us. And that’s why they’re protesting.

New York Times Editorial: Elizabeth Warren’s Appeal

For a few years now, politicians straining against all of the antigovernment demagogy have been searching for a way to energize public interest and remind voters of the essential government services and protections they rely on and all too often take for granted.

President Obama has struggled to find that language, only recently beginning to draw a clear contrast between his goal to revive the economy and put Americans back to work and the stagnation that is the inevitable result of the Republicans’ antitax, antispending policies.

While most other Democrats are afraid to talk about the need for higher taxes and are running away from the problem, Elizabeth Warren, the leading Democratic candidate for a Senate seat in Massachusetts, has engaged the fight and is beginning to rally supporters.

Nickolas D. Kristof: America’s ‘Primal Scream’

IT’S fascinating that many Americans intuitively understood the outrage and frustration that drove Egyptians to protest at Tahrir Square, but don’t comprehend similar resentments that drive disgruntled fellow citizens to “occupy Wall Street.”

There are differences, of course: the New York Police Department isn’t dispatching camels to run down protesters. Americans may feel disenfranchised, but we do live in a democracy, a flawed democracy – which is the best hope for Egypt’s evolution in the coming years.

Yet my interviews with protesters in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park seemed to rhyme with my interviews in Tahrir earlier this year. There’s a parallel sense that the political/economic system is tilted against the 99 percent. Al Gore, who supports the Wall Street protests, described them perfectly as a “primal scream of democracy.”

Robert Reich: The Rise of the Regressive Right and the Reawakening of America

A fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward.

We are going to battle once again.

Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together: We all benefit from public investments in schools and health care and infrastructure. And we all do better with strong safety nets, reasonable constraints on Wall Street and big business, and a truly progressive tax system. Progressives worry when the rich and privileged become powerful enough to undermine democracy.

Regressives take the opposite positions.

Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the other tribunes of today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards.

John Nichols: Hey! Supercommittee! Here’s the Smart Plan to Save $7 Trillion, Create Jobs, Save Social Security

America is not broke. But America does have broken priorities.

Americans are waking up to this reality. That’s why they are occupying Wall Street, that’s why they are protesting in Madison, Columbus, Lansing and other state capitals, that’s why thousands marched Saturday in Washington and other cities on behalf of “Jobs and Justice.”

“We are in the midst of a major economic crisis. Millions of Americans are jobless, our schools and infrastructure are under-resourced, our kids are being denied real educational opportunities and their futures are at risk. It’s no wonder that people are frustrated,” says American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, a featured speaker at the Washington rally that honored the social and economic justice legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while highlighting the ongoing nature of the civil rights icon’s struggle. “The march and rally are about hitting the streets and taking concrete action to change our nation to once again become the place where everyone has a shot at the American dream.”

The people get it, and unions and activist groups such as Progressive Democrats of America have been stepping up this weekend with dozens of events to the highlight the the issues from coast to coast.

But will Congress?

Joe Conason: The Tax Hikes That Republicans Love

From the tea parties to the corporate boardrooms to the presidential debate platforms, we hear a familiar droning whine about taxes-except the angry message is no longer simply that taxes are too high. Today, conservative politicians and pundits complain instead that some people, namely those too poor to owe federal income taxes, aren’t paying enough. So what if those people can scarcely sustain their families, like the millions of middle-class families doing slightly better but struggling, as well?

This is the Democratic “fairness” argument turned upside down, which may prove to have limited appeal. What will appeal to most Americans even less are the proposed Republican solutions, like a national sales tax. And what might surprise them is that the first president to expand tax relief for the working poor was that almighty Republican icon, Ronald Reagan, whose name is constantly invoked by politicians unworthy of his legacy.

Oct 17 2011

Occupy Wall St. Livestream: Day 31

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at livestream.com

OccupyWallStreet

The resistance continues at Liberty Square, with free pizza 😉

“I don’t know how to fix this but I know it’s wrong.” ~ Unknown Author

From Tahrir Square to Times Square: Protests Erupt in Over 1,500 Cities Worldwide

Tens of Thousands Flood the Streets of Global Financial Centers, Capitol Cities and Small Towns to “Occupy Together” Against Wall Street Mid-Town Manhattan Jammed as Marches Converge in Times Square

New York, NY — After triumphing in a standoff with the city over the continued protest of Wall Street at Liberty Square in Manhattan’s financial district, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread world wide today with demonstrations in over 1,500 cities globally and over 100 US cities from coast to coast. In New York, thousands marched in various protests by trade unions, students, environmentalists, and community groups. As occupiers flocked to Washington Square Park, two dozen participants were arrested at a nearby Citibank while attempting to withdraw their accounts from the global banking giant.

“I am occupying Wall Street because it is my future, my generations’ future, that is at stake,” said Linnea Palmer Paton, 23, a student at New York University. “Inspired by the peaceful occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo, tonight we are are coming together in Times Square to show the world that the power of the people is an unstoppable force of global change. Today, we are fighting back against the dictators of our country – the Wall Street banks – and we are winning.”

The global economy is broken. Here’s how to fix it

by Tony Greenham

The Occupy London and Wall Street protests reflect deep anger that no one has been called to account for the financial crisis

The only surprise about Saturday’s occupation of the London Stock Exchange is that it took so long to happen. No doubt the government and banking lobby was hoping that the final report of the Vickers commission last month would draw a line under so-called banker bashing in the UK. As Basil Fawlty might have put it: “I crashed the global economy once, but I think I got away with it.”

So why won’t popular protests go away? Here’s why: there has been no public inquiry into the causes of the crash. No calling to account of those who drove the ship on to the rocks. No assertion of the public interest over financial markets. No subordination of banks to the needs of the real economy. No politician who dares face down global finance. No challenging of the defunct dogmas of neoliberal economics. No attempt to reverse the breathtaking wealth grab by the 1% at the expense of the rest.

Why should we be surprised that these protests are springing up, and why should we expect them to dissipate until these failures are addressed?

Oct 17 2011

On This Day In History October 17

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 17 is the 290th day of the year (291st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 75 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1986, President Ronald Reagan signs into law an act of Congress approving $100 million of military and “humanitarian” aid for the Contras. Unfortunately for the President and his advisors, the Iran-Contra scandal is just about to break wide open, seriously compromising their goal of overthrowing the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Congress, and a majority of the American public, had not been supportive of the Reagan administration’s efforts to topple the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Reagan began a “secret war” to bring down the Nicaraguan government soon after taking office in 1981. Millions of dollars, training, and arms were funneled to the Contras (an armed force of Nicaraguan exiles intent on removing the leftist Nicaraguan regime) through the CIA. American involvement in the Contra movement soon became public, however, as did disturbing reports about the behavior of the Contra force. Charges were leveled in newspapers and in Congress that the Contras were little more than murderers and drug runners; rumors of corruption and payoffs were common. Congress steadily reduced U.S. assistance to the Contras, and in 1984 passed the second Boland Amendment prohibiting U.S. agencies from giving any aid to the group.

The affair was composed of arms sales to Iran in violation of the official US policy of an arms embargo against Iran, and of using funds thus generated to arm and train the Contra militants based in Honduras as they waged a guerilla war to topple the government of Nicaragua. The Contras’ form of warfare was “one of consistent and bloody abuse of human rights, of murder, torture, mutilation, rape, arson, destruction and kidnapping.” The “Contras systematically engage in violent abuses… so prevalent that these may be said to be their principal means of waging war.” A Human Rights Watch report found that the Contras were guilty of targeting health care clinics and health care workers for assassination; kidnapping civilians; torturing and executing civilians, including children, who were captured in combat; raping women; indiscriminately attacking civilians and civilian homes; seizing civilian property; and burning civilian houses in captured towns.

Direct funding of the Contras insurgency had been made illegal through the Boland Amendment the name given to three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984, all aimed at limiting US government assistance to the Contras militants. Senior officials of the Reagan administration decided to continue arming and training the Contras secretly and in violation of the law as enacted in the Boland Amendment. Senior Reagan administration officials started what they came to call “the Enterprise,” a project to raise money for their illegal funding of the Contras insurgency.

Oct 17 2011

Pipe Dreams And Drilling Rights

After scrapping stricter smog limit, President Barack Obama continues to throw the environment under the bus.

BP allowed back into the bidding for gulf oil drilling rights

by Terry Macalister

US regulator declines to enforce ‘death penalty’ on oil company despite environmentalists’ fury

The Obama administration has infuriated environmentalists by giving BP the green light to bid for new drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico.

The move – seen as a major step in the company’s political rehabilitation as an offshore driller following the Deepwater Horizon accident – was revealed by the head of the US safety regulator after a congressional hearing in Washington.

[]

BP declined to comment, but Friends of the Earth said it was appalled. “Governments should be administering the death penalty to all deepwater drilling rather than waiting for yet more devastating incidents like the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico or in any other part of the world,” argued Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns at the environmental group.

“It is not just BP operations that are deeply flawed,” he added. “There is not a single oil company that can say with a high degree of confidence that it can drill safely and how it will clear up if something goes wrong. It is clear in the context of climate change we need to develop new clean technologies, not hunt for fossil fuels in ever more remote and hard-to-reach areas.”

Obama allies’ interests collide over Keystone pipeline

by Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson

In May, the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben – pondering a simmering energy issue – asked a NASA scientist to calculate what it would mean for the Earth’s climate if Canada extracted all of the petroleum in its rich Alberta oil sands region.

The answer to McKibben’s query came a month later: it would push atmospheric carbon concentrations so high that humans would be unable to avert a climate disaster. “It is essentially game over,” wrote James E. Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is one of the nation’s leading voices against fossil fuel energy.

“This project represents a collision of multiple national interests and multiple political interests,” said P.J. Crowley, who served as spokesman for the State Department during part of the review process. “Energy security and environment normally go together, but in this case they are somewhat at odds. All have come together to make this a bigger deal than it might have appeared at first blush.”

Charles K. Ebinger, a senior fellow for energy at the Brookings Institution, said the issue has “become a test case for the Democrats” with two factions within the Obama camp asking the same question: “Is he with us or against us?”

“I do think it has become a defining political issue,” Ebinger said. “I don’t think he’s going to win any friends whichever way he goes.”

Oct 17 2011

Pique the Geek 20111016: All about Soap Part II

First, please allow me to apologize for not posting Popular Culture Friday last.  I was occupied until late in the day and did not have enough time to write a quality piece for the series, and I would rather post nothing rather than a poor piece.  It shall return this coming Friday.

Actually, this is not about soap, but rather synthetic detergents, although we often call then “soap”.  In the companion piece to this one from last week, here, the terms are explained in detail.

There are a couple of reasons for using synthetic detergents over actual soap.  Part of it is economics, because both vegetable and animal fats, essential ingredients for soap, tend to be fairly high in cost.  Most detergents are based on petroleum, so when oil prices are low then can be cheaper to produce than soap.  When petroleum is high in cost, then detergents become less economically favorable.