Friday, December 30, 2011

End of a Year

A couple of images to sum up the year.

First, some amazingly on point gingerbread cookies.  Perhaps a new movement?  Political Baking Art?  Count me in!

This harkens back to Christmas, but also captures the political mood of the year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Education Pays

This has long been one of my favorite soap box topics.  Teachers deserve more respect and more pay.  This leads to more people considering it as a career option instead of (at best) a stop before a real career.

Well now there is some proof that better pay actually leads to better eduction.  Opponents often say that just paying the same people more will not help, but that is not the point.  If you paid them an amount comparable to their worth to society (which is certainly more than lawyers or day traders), then you could more conceivably hold them more accountable for their jobs. You could trim those not performing well (a small percentage) and add some better people.  

What could be more important to society's overall health and future prospects than education?  Maybe we could teach children to think instead of just remember facts.

And I might as well touch on my other favorite sub-topic.  The younger the child, the more important the education.  Learning habits are established before grade school.  Yet, we as a society show that the older the student, the more prestige and money for the teachers.  I have nothing against the many college professors I call friends.  They do great work.  I just do not think it is so much more important than a kindergarten teacher in terms of impact to society.  Maybe the impact is just different, but equally valid.  I just think we need to value the teachers of the young.  Now they are not taken seriously enough, in terms of pay or prestige.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Consumerism Amok

I received not one, but two emails on Christmas Day offering me a special discount for purchases that day only.  Seriously?  Retailers busiest season is the month leading up to the day, and the day after is one of the busiest days of the year.  They couldn't let us have one day?  

I know there is plenty of consumerism going on that day without any shopping.  Presents are requested by brand name.  Most people are hauling in stuff that day and are very aware of that stuff.  Some even enjoy the giving part, but most gifts are better received if you got the brand name right.  So I am not trying to be overly idealistic.  Every other holiday has sales associated with them, so there is plenty of time for buying things.  It was nice to have a day or two per year where life was concentrated on family and friends and not buying stuff.  Thanksgiving is being shaved away as the Christmas shopping starts for many at midnight that day.  Now they are going to take Christmas too?  Sure you could always buy stuff online on Christmas, if your family is that boring or tedious.  I just hate to see retailers like Target and Williams-Sonoma encouraging it.

Is this another sign of aging?  Feeling old fashioned?  Am I just trying to hold on to antiquated notions in the face of "progress."  Oh well, if that is now my role, I am still not backing down.  Leave my holidays alone!  And while you are at it, get off of my lawn.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Hannukah

Yes, there are two parodies of the Wiz Khalifa song called Black and Jewish.  The link is much slicker and has a real video, but this one is funny too...

Check back tomorrow for a Christmas video.  I try to be equal opportunity around here, but I have not seen any funny Muslim, Kwanza, or Festivus videos out there this year.  I am not saying they aren't out there.  I just have yet to come across them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Art Thoughtz

I have a definite pet peeve about "alternate spellings" of words like "thoughtz," but in this case, the words fit.  This is the video show of Hennesy Youngman featured on Youtube and Vimeo.  I am sure he would just say that I am outdated in my thoughts about spelling and grammar and all that.

He may have some good points about making art.  I have always liked to play with and explore definitions of art, but for many people (maybe just older people), art has a very fixed definition.  It involves paint or stone or maybe clay or glass, but it is clearly representational or abstract.  Also equally important is the fact that it is expensive.

A few years back, I was involved in the $25 show.  All the art by all of the artists involved sold for $25.  Some of the artists were well established.  Yet I heard comments from several people who heard about it who talked about "real art" as if that were some other thing... that you could not sell "real art" for $25.  How sad.  On the other hand, most people are intimidated by art and museums.  We had a woman come to the $25 show who said that she had never been to an art show in her entire life (and she was at least middle aged).  But she came to this one because it seemed more within her graspe.

It is the same thing with new media.  Hopefully the youngest among us will not grow up with the antiquated notion of art as only painting or sculpture and embrace a more open and new definition.  Art can exist on the street, on a website, or anywhere for that matter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Isn't Revolutionizing Retail Enough?

Do you have to try and squash all the little guys too?

I admit to using Amazon, especially for things like electronics.  The prices are great and the convenience is awesome.  For more specialized items, customers even end up supporting smaller businesses that are distributed through Amazon.  Most of the stuff I have bought did not even come directly from Amazon, but an affiliate.

I am wary of any company that seems to be getting too big and two strong, especially when they let it go to their corporate person head.  Yet, I have always seen Amazon more competing with other behemoths like Walmart and Target and Barnes and Noble.  I did not see too much harm in that, but now they are literally going after small businesses.  As a small business owner and supporter of small businesses, I am pissed!  I am speaking of their recent program urging customers to go into local stores, scan products, and then come back and buy them from Amazon.  Customers are given a discount for doing so.  This allows Amazon to gather massive amounts of market data easily.  More insidiously, it does so at the expense of local businesses.  The company gives customers actual incentives not to support those businesses.

And here I am advertising for them.  I may have to rethink this relationship.  It certainly has not benefited me anyway. I know it is convenient, especially for sending presents across country, but I cannot support this.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Fun

So here is some great perspective on Christmas and setting up consumerist expectations.

And here is just some Christmas awesomeness in a very short video.

And what Christmas would be complete without a nativity scene. 
There are more images here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Media, Media, Media

Why do I feel like I am in the modern day version of Metropolis.  

Media has become a factory, owned by a few

Friday, December 16, 2011

Reason for the Season

DOn't forget the "reason for the season" we are told.  Well don't YOU forget.

Our memories are so short.  Perhaps it is human nature to define everything by what we can remember during our time.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and all that.  The world is complicated.  Religion is complicated.  I wish we could stop always trying to reduce everything to a simplistic state we can comprehend.  Not everything is knowable.  It is that mystery that makes life amazing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Breaking the News

This is spot on!  You may want to swallow any drink in your mouth before watching.
It is interesting what passes for news with multiple 24 hour news sources.  It is also interesting what is left out of newscasts in favor of this kind of bullshit.  Much of the rest of the world gets ignored, not to mention any in depth analysis of domestic issues.  I guess news is not exactly a public service, but I can still be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Corporate Personhood

People are finally seeming to realize how fucked up it is to consider corporations equivalent to people in our country.  I would have said equal, but of course corporations tend to have way more power than actual people.  So people are doing something about it.  Bernie Sanders started a petition to support a proposed constitutional amendment stating that "corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people."  Simple, but important.  Please go and sign it here.  Now.  I will wait.

Stephen Colbert is using some of his Super PAC money to try and put this issue on the Presidential primary ballot in South Carolina.  Of course, along the way he is also pointing out the greedy and ridiculous state in which our political system seems to find itself currently.  The guy and his staff are geniuses.  It seems that we now have to depend on comedians to save our country.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'm a job creator, you're a job creator

Wouldn't you like to be a job creator too?

The myth of the super-rich being the job creators has been repeated so many times, it now seems to be taken as fact, even by those that see a problem with the great income inequalities in the United States right now.  Rather than argue with that myth, we just tend to say that the rich can afford more taxes.  Or we point out that they pay a smaller percentage of tax than people making less.  Or we point out that they seemed to be creating more jobs when they were taxed more, 25 years ago, than now when their taxes are lower.  These are valid points, but cede the job creator myth.  We are talking about the super-rich, which includes very few small business owners.

A new article challenges the whole idea of the entrepreneur as the job creator.  Of course, there are plenty of super rich that are not even entrepreneurs, but live off of trust funds, but let's just talk about those that would seem to be actual job creators.  Yes, entrepreneurs come up with great ideas, even creating products that we did not know we needed (like smart phones and iPads and Chia Pets).  This is a great thing and they should be rewarded handsomely, but their inventions would not mean a thing without a pool of people sufficiently economically secure to buy these products.  If we are not employed and making enough money, we cannot buy these genius inventions.  Plenty of inventions have languished without people buying them.  They may have been great ideas, but if nobody buys them, they will not create a single job.  If an innovator convinces some investors that he has a great idea, they may give her lots of money before products are sold, but these jobs will be temporary without customers with money.  Once the initial cash has been used up, plenty of companies have gone under before they could sell products and change the world.

So if we continue fostering an environment where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, the job creators will not be able to create jobs.  If only 1% of the population can afford something, that is a very limited market.  It is a market too small for all but the most luxurious specialty goods.  But then how will those rich maintain without us to sell crap too. Some day, maybe only the Waltons of Walmart fame will be at the top, and anyone else who sells the cheapest of the cheap stuff.  The six heirs already own as much as the bottom 30% of the US population (over 100,000,000).  How high can that figure go?  Do you want to live in that world?

Monday, December 12, 2011

FREE Market Capitalism

You have probably seen the infographic about the merger of banks.  If not, click on the link below.  This one is for the media and contains many more facts and more analysis.  OK now, zoom in on this sucker and read it.

This is from a piece that talks about the danger of a media monopoly.  I just still do not get why we did not learn from the Great Depression.  We established laws against monopolies to promote competition.  That was considered good for America.  Why have we changed our minds on that and decided the opposite (regulation is bad even if it promotes the free market)?  Well maybe the chart provides some of the answer.

Friday, December 9, 2011

More Sane Millionaires

This is a video from some wealthy people.

They make sense.  It does not have to be an us vs. them issue.  We all need the country and economy to be healthy.  It helps the wealthy as well as the poor.  And the two just keep getting further apart, as shown by the fact that the wealth of the six Wal-Mart heirs is equal to the wealth of the entire bottom 30% of Americans.  That is well over 100,000,000 people!

I live well and hope to have plenty of money, but that does not mean that I don't think that we all should not do well.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


It is always nice when people have the strength of character to do what is right, even when their job (or some other authority) is telling them to do otherwise.  I just read about this case where the sheriff and movers refused to evict an older woman.  Wish I read more stories like this.  Too many of us just accept unacceptable outrageous things just because "that's the way that things are."

Other times, people hide behind procedures and regulations to avoid a difficult choice that may make them look bad to other people.  Take Bonner Gaylord.  He is a city council person in Raleigh representing my old district.  He was one of two people to vote against the resolution that passed the city council this week condemning the proposed constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.  Many cities in NC and the rest of the country pass such resolutions on a regular basis.  Heck, I think Carrboro, NC passes one per week.  But Gaylord said that he did not think it was the "purview" of the council to vote on such matters.  Bonner, it is called a symbolic gesture towards what is right.  It seems that a bunch of Republicans in the state have shown more courage than you in coming out against the amendment.  Heck, at least Odom stuck to his guns in being an asshole and said the way he felt.  You just avoided the issue like a true politician.  I am just glad that you do not represent me or you would be receiving a strongly worded letter.  Nice dodge.

Friday, December 2, 2011

simple equality

This has been making the rounds.  It is worth a watch.  And here is some more information about that actor.  It turns out that he is also a filmmaker, journalist, and novelist.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

Just a quick note about World AIDS Day.  Sure things are getting better for people with AIDS and worldwide numbers of new infections seem to be slowing down, but the AIDS crisis is not over.  The disease is not getting much press these days, but we cannot forget that it is a serious problem that still needs our attention and money.

Many of us who have been closely touched by the disease would like to put it out of our mind.  Those are some painful memories.  But we do not honor those people if we forget how and why they died.


I think that the large corporations are (ie big pharma) are drugging the nation not only to make dumptrucks full of cash, but also to keep us drugged up and "happy" so that we stay lazy and apathetic and don't do anything to change the way things are.  Don't upset the applecart. These over-prescribed anti-depressants are now joined by adult ADHD in the world of made-up diseases that are an excuse for taking drugs.  Some people are just are too good and proper to do illegal street drugs that keep the lower classes down, but the the one percent need to keep the middle class down too, so that they do not notice that it is being taken away from them.  It is like Nazi Germany when people did not act because they did not believe reports that other people were being killed.  That sounded like some sort of conspiracy theory (as does this).  

Anyway, the corporate oligarchs needed something to sedate the middle class.  Actual sedatives were very out of fashion, so they had to invent something more complex.  This something had to allow for the more active lifestyles of today.  You want to keep that body up as well as that mind.  Booze used to work and still does for some, but if someone could come up with something prescribed by doctors to make people "healthier" would have the total buy-in of credibility.  All of this, and it can be paid for by insurance, if you were lucky enough to have that paid for by the employer.  Otherwise the costs of the insurance are probably putting a strain on the finances.  Anything to numb the pain and exclude reality enough to not have to face some terrifying truths.  "Then we don't have to worry about them revolting and taking away our vast riches and power."

Now, I know that psychoactive drugs can do some people with real issues (other than life is tough and the world sucks right now), a world of good.  I am not making fun of anyone who needs these medications to function.  I just think that they are over-prescribed and that this market is expanding too fast.  When I saw Adam Levine getting paid to tell the world about ADHD, it just sent me over the edge.  Maybe I have slipped over into that world of insanity inhabited by conspiracy theorists and anarchists.  Maybe all of this is my mind exercising a defense mechanism by finding something external to blame for my extreme laziness and debauched and decadent lifestyle.  I have to find my ways of coping as well.  If so, I can place the moment it happened.  I remember thinking, "This is it.  This feels different."  I do hope I can transcend all of this.  Or maybe I have ADHD and need some meds myself.  Was that a squirrel?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

music video break

Sometimes it can get so dark and serious over here.  Take a break and enjoy a creative and fun music video from Field Music.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Legislate a Good Investment Portfolio

We have laws prohibiting insider trading.  This means that people connected with a company who are given information only available to those inside the company, must not use that information to buy or sell stock.  This would give that person an unfair advantage over other investors.  It would also mean that someone could manipulate an aspect of a corporation over which he had control to help his investments, even possibly at the expense of the best interests of that company.  In other words, he or she could do something to hurt the company so that the stock goes down, and have short sold the stock or used the dip to buy cheaper stock (or both).  People who were otherwise unaware of these laws became aware when Martha Stewart was imprisoned for such actions a few years ago.

Did you know that there are no such rules preventing people working for Senators and Congresspeople from similarly using the information and influence of their jobs to invest.  For instance, congressional staffers could invest in a company (or sell stock) based upon legislation before that legislation became public.  In fact, though they deny it, staffers have shown incredible "luck" in such investments. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Occupy Art

The sides of buildings.

Also, the side of a telephone booth.  Remember those?  Seriously, check these out by TrustoCorp.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Signs and symbols

If this is not one of the signs of the apocalypse, it is certainly a sign of our crappy healthcare system.  Walmart is getting into the healthcare provider business.  If I do not trust them to provide me with everyday crap like toilet paper and garbage bags, I am surely not going to let them anywhere near my internal organs.

Did you just check the calendar to see if it is April first?  Are you now wondering if I am joking.  I kid you not.  Read it here.

And here is a quote.  "In the same week in late October that Wal-Mart said it would stop offering health insurance benefits to new part-time employees, the retailer sent out a request for partners to help it 'dramatically ... lower the cost of healthcare ... by becoming the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation.'"

I tell you what it is a sign of: it is a sign that we need more affordable healthcare options.  As much as I hate Wal-Mart, this will probably be the best option for many people.  Yet because of the company's business practices and extreme profit motive, I just do not see them providing the best care.

I just do not know what else to say.  Seriously.  This may have to be the end of the blog.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cornel goes West

Dr. Cornel West showed up in town and showed up at Occupy Seattle.

Seattle Supports Occupy Seattle

From the mayor and city council to local businesses, the local Occupy movement in Seattle is getting much community support.  The city council passed a resolution in support of the Occupy movement.  While there have been run-ins with the police, they did not try to raid the camp since the early uneasy days in Westlake Park.  The city even tried to get the camp to move to city hall, but the protesters decided that location was not visible enough.  After the latests skirmish with the police while marching, the mayor even apologized to the protesters for the use of pepper spray.  I think it might be a little better if he just controlled the police department, but that is a whole other post.  The city did not participate in the 18 city coordinated effort to oust camps from public properties. 

What I have found particularly encouraging is the support of local businesses.  Despite the media portrayal of Occupiers as anti-business, there is plenty of support among local small businesses for the movement.  They are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk with specials for protesters.  The food coop where I shop not only has a sign up front, but has the Occupy Seattle logo on the screen of each cash register.  They will take donations for the movement with your grocery purchases.  In many places, even business owners who passively supported the goals of the movement, would be afraid to make their support so public.  They would fear alienating customers.  Hear, they know that political activism is part of the fabric of the city.  Even those that may disagree will usually still respect someone taking a stand.

I cannot say that I agree with every aspect of the Occupy movement, and I am sure there are plenty of people in the tents who do not agree on everything.  It is the nature of real political discourse.  You band together and support each other's issues in the name of overall progress.  Heck, radical anarchists are marching in support of middle class people.  It makes me feel better supporting businesses so open to people and ideas outside of the mainstream that are so scary to some people.  To me, that is one of the major struggles, getting people to accept people different from themselves, no matter what that means.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Crosswalk to Bear?

I have always spoken of Seattle's jaywalking laws bemusedly.  I have heard that police actually give tickets for that here in Seattle, and I have relayed that information to visitors. I have never seen a ticket issued, but it must be true (turns out the total number is 1570 just for last year). 


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Everywhere?

The Occupy movement is spreading to small towns.  It is even spreading to small towns here in Washington that are the home of fictional, young, hot, movie vampires.  I present Occupy Forks, who protested at a local Bank of America branch (in the rain).

An End to Separate, but not Equal in this state?

Yes, I have been a little occupied with the Occupy movement lately, but that is what is going on right now.  It could be a turning point in American history, but there are other things happening.  Some of of the news is even good, like news that Washington state is getting ready to try for full same-sex marriage.  We already have domestic partnership, but they are going for the whole enchilada of love.

Stay tuned for more Occupy, like the one about pepper spraying grandmother.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Defying the law in New York

If reports are true out of New York, the police are preventing protesters from entering the park despite a court order to allow them in.  I am more than a little confused.  Don't the police justify their sometimes violent arrests of protesters as necessary to uphold the law?  Are they making their own law now?  How are they now justifying ignoring the law?  Can the protesters now arrest the police?  No, because the police have the weapons.

Occupy Berkeley

This may be a bit old, but I just saw it.  From last week at the University of California.
Just disgusting and unforgivable to me.  The Chancellor issued a statement saying that law enforcers were "forced" to be physically violent with the students.  Turned out that he had not seen the video at all.  After watching it, he spoke of an interesting "dilemma" of how to prevent encampments without force.  And this was after he watched the police ram sticks into people who were standing peacefully?  Has he seen them back people into a bush and keep striking them?  Has he seen the guy coming around from the side to poke them while shielded from view by the bush and another officer?  Can you honestly say this guy was trying to keep order and not just getting out some anger and frustration?  

email chancellor (@)

Judge Orders City to Allow Occupy Wall Street

In New York, a judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing Occupy protesters back into Liberty Park with their belongings.  Read more here.

Occupy Chicago

Monday, November 14, 2011

Breaking Occupy News

It is rare that I would be in a position to break news, but the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York is being raided and destroyed by the NYPD right now.  They are evidently not moving anything, but destroying all property found and trucking it off to the landfill.  Moment to moment coverage can be found here.

Occupy my navel

And so it begins.  

I cannot say about the Occupy movement around the world, but the local group seems intent on getting bogged down on process and political purity and not on building a movement to effect change.  The Stranger recently organized a panel discussion about the Occupy movement.  The panel contained members of the local Occupiers and a few local political leaders with a bit more experience.  It was created in favor of the movement, and not as any sort of critique or debate.  While the "panel discussion" format is not very "street" or "radical," it can be a way to educate and enlarge the base of participators.  There are many, many quiet supporters who have not found a place among the campsites and more radical activities of the movement, but they support the movement goals 100%.  In order for the movement to actually accomplish things on a larger scale, they need to accept that others may want to approach the issues in different ways.  Instead, they showed up at this event and totally disrupted it, driving off supporters in droves.

This could be a pivotal moment in history.  The Occupiers could have started a tsunami of a turning tide as their message trickles out.  But some elements seem to have seized power that are more intent on infantile displays of obstructionism.  The obsession with holding onto a mode of process is the organizational equivalent of navel gazing.  I have seen it before, some people have a little success at something and then let it go to their heads.  In the name of protecting the voices of the normally voiceless, they silence the voices of others without irony.  Much like a child realizes he can make the whole family take notice and react with a well-timed tantrum, these attention whores can bring down a meeting by challenging some minor detail on inexplicable, but unassailable terms.  

They chanted, "this is what democracy looks like," but democracy is supposed to allow everyone's voice to be heard, not just the suitably hip/disenfranchised.  I remember from 90's AIDS activism how people get paranoid and obsessive.  In the name of political purity, some people hijack the process and impede progress and sulk away when all of their demands are not met.  Other people lose interest after attending a couple of meetings using the consensus process when one person can hold up the process trying to get their pet demand met.  Ironically, a person arguing on behalf of vegetarians against the Klan (or whatever their individual perspective) lets their ego get in the way of compromise for the greater good.  Yes, a movement with strong leadership can quash concerns outside of their personal agendas, and consensus movements are designed to prevent this, but unfortunately, the process can get in the way of actual progress and action.  The perfect becomes the enemy of the good.  And when people realize what is happening, some will start to suspect the obstructionists of being government agents sent to destroy the organization.  It can kill movements.  I am not sure where the happy medium is, but I would hate to see it happen to this movement, but it may be inevitable.  I just hope that they spawn enough ideas and motivate enough people to spur progress even after the organizations have died.  This happened with many well-meaning organizations before it that imploded in their own obsessions.

On more positive Occupy news, a group from Occupy Wall Street are marching from New York to Washington, DC.  I think this is a great idea, and I wish them well.  It may not be perfectly planned and executed, but it is action and it is happening and receiving attention.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Unemployment or Holiday?

A response for the idiots who think that many people are just sitting around being lazy and collecting unemployment when they could actually be working here.  As I have said, this is a ludicrous notion.  It turns out that in fact now most people who are unemployed are not receiving any unemployment benefits.  Here is a neat quote, "Nearly one-third of America's 14 million unemployed have had no job for a year or more."  Put that in your bong and smoke it because you are high if you think there are plenty of jobs out there just because you see ads for jobs.  Try applying for a few.

Remember our veterans today and every day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Was it Really Bank Transfer Day?

Last Saturday was the culmination of a movement to move people's accounts from giant mega-banks to local banks and credit unions.

 Was it successful?  See for yourself.  While a few billion is only a tiny portion of US deposits, it is still a large number.  It seems like enough to make a statement and send a message and all that.  Plus it strengthens the smaller banking institutions.  I am happy for all of the people who switched.  They should receive better service now, like some of us have for years.  Since my accounts were already with the credit union, I participated by opening my new business accounts with the local credit union.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Who Are Occupy?

A few months ago, that title would not have made grammatical sense.  

So much has been said about the type of people that make up the Occupy Wall Street movement.  People from both sides of the political spectrum have made all sorts of erroneous assumptions to deal with their discomfort over this antagonistic action.  The demographics supporters of this movement may be a little different than what is being described in the media and what most people seem to think.  Click on this link and see what you think.

I am sure this will not be widely reported.  Should it change the way the movement is described and discussed?   

Monday, November 7, 2011

Deficit Reduction Plans Compared

Would anyone really be amazed to learn that the Democrats and Republicans have proposed completely different plans?  It might surprise you to learn which party's plans would reduce more of the deficit.  I am so sick of Republicans being called the party of fiscal responsibility.  Why will that myth never seem to die?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bank Transfer Day

Tomorrow (November 5) is Bank Transfer Day.

There is a movement afoot to get people to move their accounts from big banks to smaller community banks and credit unions.  It is called Bank Transfer Day, and it is not part of the Occupy movement (though they support it).    Are you going to move your money?  It is an interesting idea, and I support it.  I have been using credit unions myself for years and greatly prefer the service I get with credit unions.  

I was there recently and there was a large crowd of people opening new accounts.  I commented to the employee that they must have been busy lately.  He said yes, but said that even though Bank of America announced that they were cancelling the debit card fee, the credit union was still being flooded with new members.  I said that I thought it was about more than just the fee.  In the lobby, I heard customers talking about the where and when of the next demonstration.

Here is some help, if you need it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Congress Forced the Banks

Turns out that banks did not cause the mortgage crisis at all.  Evidently, big banks are much less powerful than they seem.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Link if you are funny; Link if you are right

If you are drinking anything, make sure you swallow before clicking on this link and reading this hilarious Republican to English dictionary.  You clothes and your cat will thank you for not spitting on them.

Here is a roundup of updates on the Occupy movement around the globe.  Banksy created a great piece, a version of a giant monopoly board, in support of the movement.   
There is some support for the Occupy movement among business faculty.  Interesting.  They reference a study done by Duke University that showed that MBA students come out of school less ethical than when they entered. 

Republicans said Obama did not do enough to create jobs, and now they are spending time trying to create a national motto that clearly violates the Constitution?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Health"care" for "employees"

This article about Walmart dropping many employees from their healthcare plan (and raising rates on the rest) actually has some great information about the health insurance system in general in the United States and where the employer-based system came from.  As a quick aside, I believe those many part-time employees were only added after the company received such bad publicity after it was discovered they included pamphlets on local government aid programs with many employees' paychecks because they were not offered any insurance and they made little enough to qualify for government assistance.

Still wondering why we are the only industrialized nation to have such an inadequate system.  American exceptionalism?  Why has no other country copied us?  They want our democracy, but not our healthcare system. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

The War on Science

Something scary for Halloween.

This video from the Daily Show is BRILLIANT.  I am sorry, but I cannot seem to embed the video unless it is on YouTube, so you have to click on the link.  It is worth it.  I promise.

Are Republicans anti-reason now?  What in the hell is going on with them?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Which Bank Is the Worst?

Which Bank Is the Worst?
We’ve outlined the seven deadliest sins of the big banks. Read them here, and then tell us which one you think is the worst.

1. JPMorgan Chase kicks 54 military families out of their homes—despite a law against doing so.

2. Wells Fargo gives bonuses to loan officers to put minority borrowers into high-priced subprime mortgages—internally dubbed “ghetto loans.”

3. Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs all pay huge fines to settle charges they duped their own clients.

4. Goldman Sachs assists in Europe’s economic collapse by helping Greece mask the truth about its finances.

5. JPMorgan turns a blind eye to Bernie Madoff’s deceptions.

6. Bank of America pays $137 million to settle government claims it rigged the municipal-bond market.

7. Despite these and other unpardonable sins, banks showers tens of millions of dollars in bonus money on top executives.

(move your account?)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Scott Olsen

This is the veteran marine who was shot by Oakland police and put in a coma.
 Think the police over-reacted a little?

What she said...

More about where this Occupy movement came from, in easy to consume short video form.

Get it?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whence and Why Occupy?

The Occupy movement is not based on anything recent.  People are struggling to figure out what this is all about, looking only in terms of the current moment in time.  This has been a long time coming.  I am going to talk about why I think this happened

First there was an economic meltdown.  Well no, lets back up even further, long before the latest crisis, even before the recession at the turn of the millennium.  For many years, the country has been losing decent paying factory jobs, and those people have been required to take lower paying service jobs.  Employers made many employees at this level "part-time," working them enough to meet their needs, but not enough that they needed to give them any benefits.  That means no sick days, no paid days off for any reason, no health insurance, and little security of future employment.  Once unemployment among this segment of the population reaches a certain level, the employer has all the power, hiring and firing on a whim.  Employees work two or more part-time jobs if they can find them, and struggle to take care of their families.  The working class and lower middle class got screwed.

In the late 90‘s, technology companies boomed.  They could not hire enough qualified people quickly enough.  The companies turned to hiring many foreign nationals, many educated in US universities.  Why shouldn’t the country benefit from educating all of these engineers and technology workers?  The problem is that most of these people were allowed to stay here on H-1B visas, but there was a limit on the number of these visas each year, and they would run out.  It happened earlier and earlier each year.  Typically, the business and immigration community would lobby Congress and they would increase the number.  Then the anti-immigration lobby joined forces with some political opportunists, and decided that these workers were taking American jobs or something like that.  The raising of the cap became a more contentious issue each year.  Congress started not raising it enough to meet employers needs and started adding useless extra conditions and fees.  Even unions got involved working against raising the cap, but since H-1B’s are typically given to well-educated professionals, it is not clear what unions stood to gain.  They were just being anti-immigration because immigrants became the latest scapegoat for dwindling jobs.  For years, all H-1B visas were given out at the very beginning of the fiscal year.  At the same time, technology finally reached a point making the high speed transfer of data possible around the world.  Companies opened up or enlarged facilities in India and China and elsewhere.  Suddenly, those people did not need to remain in the United States to have decent careers.  They could get their education and go home to work.
Then the first recession started in 2001, and this was the collapse of the “tech bubble.”  Technology professionals were laid off left and right.  The companies that supported those industries took big hits as well.  Workers took lesser jobs in the industry.  Some were forced to work at the mall or in restaurants.  I am not sure whether the country ever fully recovered from this.  Sure some companies started hiring again, but many had gone away.  Companies could hire more people overseas.  Yes, unemployment went down, but not to 90’s levels.  And unemployment never counts the underemployed, like the software engineer working at the Gap.

Then comes the mortgage fiasco/banking crisis/economic meltdown.  It is largely triggered by incredibly well-paid bankers and financiers made ridiculously risky investments with money supplied by deregulated banks who have bought up so many smaller banks and become so huge that they could not even effectively govern themselves.  They did not seem to even know what all they were getting into.  The worse part is that they were considered "too big to fail."  If they failed, the consequences to the country or even world would have been great.  This is why the country had previously put limits on the growth of banks.  Remember when banks were largely confined to individual states?  Remember when there were limits on what industries they could get into?  Remember the savings and loan crisis?

Just how the executives responsible for the savings and loan crisis mostly were not held responsible for their criminal actions, the new malefactors were not held responsible.  Those executives got to keep their jobs and even got huge bonuses, while literally millions of hard working Americans lost their jobs. Millions saw the value of their houses (not to mention their retirement plans), plummet and now owe more than their houses are worth.  Many people have lost their homes completely.  They had been sold on this American dream of home ownership.  What could be a more solid investment?  Never mind that home ownership was originally promoted because workers who own homes do not tend to strike.  Well, people who spent years building up equity in their homes disappear in months.
 If that was not bad enough,  the same damn companies who were saved by government bailouts are now suing people, who already lost their homes, for the difference between what the banks could sell the houses for and what the original owners owed on the house. These are people who could not afford to keep their homes. Where in the hell is this extra money supposed to be coming from? It is fucking outrageous! People say that these people bought houses that were bigger than they could afford, but they probably could afford them when they were working. How many of you could afford to keep paying their house payments without a job?  How long?  The typical unemployed person right now is unemployed for more than 40 weeks.  These are numbers not seen since the Great Depression.  Contrary to popular belief, unemployment will not cover most house payments. It its not like these people could just downsize with such a crappy real estate market. Who will buy their old house?  Where will they get a down payment with all of their equity gone?  The same goes for moving to another city for a job. If they could sell their houses at all, they would owe a huge debt for which they have nothing to show! What kind of fucked up version of the American dream is that? 

New home ownership was a big economic engine in many cities, driving economies ever upward. Now the purchasers if those homes are being demonized by people who just happen to have been lucky enough not to have lost their jobs. Well actually those judgmental people are just going along with the demonization perpetrated by right wing media and business people.  Yes, maybe some of these people could not afford the houses they bought even in the best of times, but then why in the hell did companies loan them the money without fully checking out their credit or income?  I know when I was pre-qualified for a home loan for my first house, they offered me WAY more money than it would have been smart for me to borrow.  I was damn glad I resisted all that “free money” when I was later laid off.  I would not have been able to afford it with my reduced salary. 

Most importantly, these same people demonize the troubled homeowners are the ones who loaned out money indiscriminately and developed these risky credit default swaps to bundle them all together in the first place?  Why are they not just accepting the burden that came as a result of their irresponsibility?  Why is that all put on the people without jobs?  And why shouldn’t those people be angry as hell?

Back to our story.  After a couple of years, people started hearing that the economy had recovered.  Stock markets had bounced back and other indicators had stopped their decline, so there was no “recession.”  But for most of us, that did not mean that things got better.  It did not really mean a damn thing.  Maybe for some, things stopped getting worse, but many continued to lose their jobs.  People are still losing jobs today.  Unless your sense of well-being comes from you investments in the stock market, you likely do not feel good about the current economic situation in this country.  To be honest, even the stock market has remained volatile in the past few years, so I don’t think anyone is celebrating the economy (well except for the people who work in mortgage foreclosure, etc.).

Some people still seemed to be getting richer, for sure.  The rest of us just started looking at the corruption of the system and got disgusted.  We were told that the banks were too big to fail, so they were given huge cash infusions to keep them afloat.  This did not seem like such a bad thing  at the time until we started hearing about the bonuses being paid out to people in charge of these banks.  Why couldn’t this money come with a few strings?  The banks would be going out of business if not for our tax money.  In other words, the executives were failing at their jobs, but still getting multimillion dollar bonuses.  We were told that the bonuses were paid out even in those times because the companies needed to keep these people in place that knew what was going on.  Nobody else could even understand what was going on, so they could not resolve the situation.  Even though much of the bailout money was repaid by the banks, it just did not seen right that they should be so handsomely rewarded for fucking up, when so many of the rest of us were struggling.  The government did not take the chance to really rein in Wall Street, and the little that they did do is now being called criminal by Newt Gingrich as he runs for President (or tries to sell his book or up his speakers fees or whatever it is he is doing).  So now we hear that the banks are back to doing the same old stuff.  Those people at the top keep making more and more money while the rest of us make less.

Before they were elected in 2012, the Republicans that swept into power harped and harped about jobs.  “Nothing is being done about jobs by the Democrats,” they said.  They dismissed all that the President had accomplished (though I wish it had been more) as irrelevant because all that mattered was jobs, jobs, jobs.  People said “you are right,” and voted them in.  Once in, they dropped the “jobs” mantra quicker than a “reporter” gets dropped by ESPN after making a racist comment.  It was decided that the economic problems were not caused by a lack of jobs, but by the deficit, which they said Obama was letting get out of control.  Of course they ignored the fact that most of the ballooning was a result of Bush’s wars and policies, and the fact that the economy was slow.  Though conservatives had little data to support this idea, they started Chicken Little-ing about China cashing in and the country becoming bankrupt if we did not cut budget deficits and pay down some of our debt.  It did not matter than most economists said this was not the time to be doing that, even if it was an important long term goal.  They even managed to get many Democrats caught up in this lunacy, thereby taking their eyes off of their balls.  Conservatives attacked all sorts of government programs from the EPA to services to benefit those that are struggling financially.  We can restore America’s greatness by getting rid of these “wasteful” safety nets.  The logic is since that America was great many years ago and it is not so now (though don’t you question America’s greatness or you hate America), if we undo all the progress we have established in the past century, we will be great again.  Don’t go back and read the sentence again, because it will never make sense.  That is the problem.  Further, Republicans ignore the fact that many of these programs were put into place by Republicans and that the country has thrived under them.  They also ignore the fact that those countries that are doing better than us have as many or more of those safe guards than we do.  Even China is working on their environmental problems.  Are we trying to become a second world country?

The right trotted out the classic fairy tales about the welfare cheats and people living lives of luxury on unemployment.  The only way you could do that is to commit fraud and pretend to be several people.  I have heard a Democrat complain that unemployment compensation was over $500 per month, and anybody can live off of that.  So there is no incentive to work.  (he later let slip that he had been on unemployment, so I am not sure why he went back to work if there is no incentive, but we all have our blind spots).  In fact, the $583 is the maximum rate one can receive as a percentage of their former pay in the state.  Most people receive less than that.  Some receive well under $100 per week.  Try living on that outside of your parents’ basement.  Sadly, I know of a guy who quit his low-paying job because someone had told him that he could make more money on unemployment.  This is sad because his decision was based upon people’s erroneous assumptions.  The fact was that his (like everyone’s) unemployment benefits was far less than what he made working.  It was doubly sad because of course if you quit without provocation from the employer, you receive no benefits at all.  He quit for nothing.  But I have digressed.

So, to slay the fire-breathing deficit, Republicans were ready to slash and burn the budget (the part not being the military or any contracts benefiting their “constituent companies”).  Some people finally stood up and said, “wait just a damn minute.”  This is not making any sense.  Cooler heads on the left pointed out that if we just let the Bush tax cuts expire on income of over $250,000 we could make some serious headway on that deficit.  “Class warfare!” the right exclaimed.  They managed to prevent these tax cuts from expiring while arguing for massive cuts in the government (which would eliminate government jobs causing more unemployment).  They also prevented any extensions of unemployment insurance benefits.  Then conservatives went on the offensive, drawing clear lines in the sand which further divided the country into “us” and “them.”      Obscenely wealth people became “job creators.” We probably have Frank Luntz to thank for that one.  We were told that if we lowered on the rich, jobs would sprout like dandelions.  They never explained why this has not happened so far given the low tax rate (compared to the booming 90’s when jobs actually were being created and tax rates were higher).

The right started talking about almost half of Americans who supposedly do not pay taxes.  They don’t pay income taxes, but they do pay other taxes.  These are retirees and students.  They are people who do not make enough money to afford taxes.  It is very sad that in the richest country in the world, so many people are making so little.  Yet, the Republican’s response was “tax the poor more.”  Huh?  It is not fair to tax the “hardworking” rich (even those jobless living off of trust funds), but we should tax those that can barely afford to live. 
John Edwards, for all of his faults, did a good job of pointing out the two Americas today.  He also talked about the impossibility of living off of anything close to minimum wage.  Shouldn’t minimum wage be enough to live on for someone working full-time?  As he used to say, these workers are living up to their end of the bargain by working full-time, but cannot afford to feed their families.  The conservatives recently pointed out, “the poor have televisions and microwave ovens,” ignoring that these things can be had almost free if they are used.  So who again is it that is doing the attacking in this war?

While the right has done a good job of convincing middle class people that the Republicans represent their interests better, they have not done so.  They represent the wealthy who fund them.  Some in the middle believe that they are on their way to being rich, but others just admire without aspiring, and if they have to chose a side, they sure as hell do not want to be lumped with the poor.  They have worked hard not to be.  All Republicans have say is ‘“the other side wants to raise your taxes” and they have them on their side.  One friend said, “we 53% pay taxes so that the 99% can sit around and do nothing.”  What?  Even ignoring the obvious math mistakes, that statement does not make sense.  People sit at home attack the Occupy movement for sitting around and doing nothing, when they are actually the ones out doing something.  It makes no sense.

On the other side of this divide, more and more people have realized the absurdity of protecting 1% of the population to the detriment of the other 99%.  They realized that we are the majority by far, so why does it seem that we have so little power?  Why are we being demonized while they seem to get away with murder?  The “job creators” are stripping our benefits, cutting our pay, making us more hours, or laying us off, while they collect massive bonuses and go on lavish overseas vacations.  They want us to fall on our swords and toughen up while their lives just get cushier and their pets are treated better than some human children.  Yes, my dog is spoiled, but he does not go to daycare and get pedicures.  They don’t even want us to have cake unless we can afford it without any help from them.  They tell us just to go back to school at 55 and learn about some technology that will be obsolete again before we retire.  We cannot all work as greeters at Walmart until they actually have a store in each house, which is I am sure their long term goal.  We can work for them and buy everything from them.  Now that is progress.

Did I digress again?  When the Supreme Court came out with the Citizens United decision, they based it upon the theory that corporations were people, citizens who had free speech rights.  Corporate personhood was developed as a legal construct to allow companies to be sued and taxed independent of the individual’s running them.  It is absurd to think that they should be treated in every way like a citizen.  If so, how many of them registered with the selective service when they reached the age of majority?  But now, companies have free speech rights that must not be hindered by limiting the amount of money they can spend in support of political candidates.  If it seemed like politicians were bought and paid for before, they must each feel like one of the last girls left at a frat party.  If the candidate is willing to put out, she will be VERY popular.

I think you must be getting the point by now.  I do not want to beat a dead horse, because we might need it for food.  People are getting angry and they aren’t going to take it, no, they’re not going to take it anymore.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy This

As a (mostly) sideline follower of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its many offshoots throughout the world, I am amazed and frustrated at people's reaction to this phenomenon.  While I have some friends who are all excited about it, most people just do not seem to get it.  For many people who might be sympathetic or at least open-minded enough to listen, their main comment is that the movement lacks a coherent message.  This is true.  Some of us suspect that we could be aligned with these people if they indeed hold similar positions, but it is tough to tell.  It makes is difficult for people to know if they should get behind a movement if they cannot even tell what it is they are getting behind.  The problem with this problem is that it belied one of the great things about this movement.  It is purely a grassroots movement that sprung up out of people's frustration at the situation in the country today.  There was no one organization or leader who said, "we need to go protest this to accomplish that."  People just started feeling incredibly frustrated and felt like something needed to be done.  They just did not know what to do!

So, some in New York decided to “occupy Wall Street” to bring attention to the source of the economic problems in the country at the moment.  They did not have a meeting, form some committees, write letters, conduct lobbying, hold fundraisers, put out position papers, and work towards some long-term clearly identified goals.  They just went with their guts, their instincts.  They just took to the streets and made some noise and tried to get their voices heard over the din of big business’ influence over government.

But to me, this is all what is so great about this movement.  It was purely grassroots and came out of raw emotions and pure frustration.  It came from people, real people, not some strategists in some antiseptic Washington conference room.  Most people are struggling while a few are profiting more and more.  Large multinational corporations have had record profits and upper level executives see their pay increase almost exponentially.  Despite the right wing saying that the problems with the economy are caused by too much government regulation, it is obvious even to someone who pays a slight bit of attention to what has happened in the past few years that the opposite is the case.  Giant corporations have run wild.  They buy the government, write the laws, and then make their finances so complicated that the government could not even understand it enough to regulate it even if they wanted to.

So, people just poured into the streets and more and more people joined them.  They wanted to express their extreme frustration and then they could figure out what it was about.  If this had been created by one or more organizations, they would be protecting and serving their own interests.  Here we have lots of different interests being represented by lots of individuals.  It is pure democracy in action.  If the individual loses her voice to big money interests, she takes to the streets.  What else is there to do?  Many may not have been articulate because they may not know or understand what exactly is happening or what the solution is.  They just no that things are really messed up and they need to change.  It is the great thing about the movement as well as its biggest weakness, but messages are starting to emerge.  This might be starting to scare those that are responsible.  At first they could easily dismiss them as unfocused and disorganized hippies who did not know what they wanted.  But as their message gets more focused and defined, it could be trouble for some.  I hope so anyway.

I have seen numerous comments that show that people just do not get this movement at all.  They get downright angry at or scared of these people.  This is basic "fear of the unknown."  The public is confused by the lack of coherent message, so people have started to make up their own version of what the message might be.  The most common is that these are a bunch of unemployed people who want the government to give them money.  I could not tell you where this nonsense came from, as I have not seen any evidence of even any element along these lines.  Ridiculous, but like any other lie if it is repeated enough, it may become “true.”  Meanwhile, much of the media shows people playing hacky-sack or wearing strange costumes.  Some of this is street theater, designed just to get media attention, but their message is often lost in translation.  Other odd people just joined in and dressed up because they saw others dressing up.  They were just showing solidarity with others they perceived as outsiders.  But this allows the general public to too easily dismiss the movement as a bunch of loons.  It gives people permission not to take seriously people who are trying to get across some desperately serious messages.  And of course, this is only after the media ignored the whole thing for the first week or two.

Many try to pit the Occupy movement against the tea party folks, like they mortal enemies.  I have even seen many Occupy supporters engage in this, but I do not think it is productive.  These people do seem to have come from different angles and maybe different ends of the political spectrum.  The demographics are different and some of the solutions they offer may be completely different, but both movements come from similar frustrations with a broken system.  I am not saying that I am a big fan of the tea party movement, but I will say that I have more sympathy for them as they were scorned by the mainstream.  While I may not agree with what they want, they are there for the same reasons.  And I wonder if they were not quite as crazy as they were portrayed during their 15 minutes of fame.  I laughed at their signs too, but I would probably look dumb too without my trusty spellcheck.

Of course it is in the interest of those at the top to divide and conquer increasingly enraged and desperate people.  The craziest elements are promoted as representative.  Sure I laughed at the absurd and misspelled signs of the tea party.  I recoiled in horror at some of their wackier demands.  I hate some of the work being done by elected officials in their name.  Many of the solutions put forth were either misdirected or just wrong.  But I wonder how many of those folks had all of this in mind when they started.  I may be naive, but I suspect some of them are not at all happy with where their movement has gone.

You cannot talk about either group as any sort of unified force, though the media attempts this every day.  There are all sorts of agendas within members of the groups, but the majority’s agenda is more basic.  Fix things.  Unfortunately, the loudest people will get heard and begin to “represent” the disparate mass.  Organizations, loose or established, are already moving in trying to co-opt the group for their purposes.  The Republicans and others did that to the tea party.  I have already heard about internal struggles in some cities' Occupy movements between various factions, such as anarchists and old-time liberals.  Movements are being run by consensus, which is an extraordinarily difficult and inefficient (though idealistic) way to work.  Factions, with their own agendas, develop and fight.  Heck in this town, even with the support of much of city government, the movement fights internally about where their camp should be, and some want to make the whole thing about fighting the police.  Some are already being distracted from the important concerns that brought them there.  There will be splinter groups and people that just do whatever they want in the name of the movement.  I saw all the same things happen in the AIDS activist movement in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It probably happened in other movements before that.  The radicalism of AIDS activism was born out of a similar sense of desperation, but it managed to accomplish a great deal before disintegrating/becoming more mainstream.  I really hope that the same thing can happen here.

Next I will give my take on what led up to all of this.