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The Plutocrats Still Lead With Control

10:32 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Two months ago, a report by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page uncovered a major issue in the American political system. Specifically, it uncovered how much power the elites in society hold in the U.S. compared to the average citizen.

Koch Brothers dressed as clowns.

Plutocrats like the Kochs control our country, but is there hope?

It is very interesting and provides useful insight into the structure of the U.S. system and how it creates political inequality. Despite the authors acknowledging the lack of specifics the term “elite,” they still recognize there is a lack of representation that threatens the U.S. democracy.

Yet, back in 2007, two reports were leaked out of Citigroup, one of the largest U.S. financial institutions searching for solutions that are “simple, creative and responsible,” that were dubbed “The Plutonomy Report.”

Led by former Chartered Financial Analyst Ajay Kapur, the team told Citigroup investors in 2005 and 2006 that the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia were all plutonomy economies. By definition, a plutocracy is when an economy “is powered and consumed by the wealthiest upper class of society.”

What leads to a plutonomy and why is it relevant to the research conducted by Gilens and Page?

To answer the former, as Kapur and his team note, there are a number of factors that led to the rise of this parallel to other periods in history.

“Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity, exploited best by the rich and educated of the time,” they write.

To answer the latter, Gilens and Page uncovered major ways the structure of the U.S. leads to inequality in politics. They do argue “the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system” are contributors to control among the few. However, the two reports from Citigroup provide an insight into the thoughts of the rich in society.

The rich consume so much, therefore, as Kapur and his team argue, this is where governments and markets will draw most of their focus. The rich will dominate in such a way that the rest of America will be considered excess. This produces major consequences for major decisions as Gilens and Page argue in their paper.

“Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all,” they write. (Emphasis not mine)

Furthermore, the points mentioned by the Citigroup team correlate with the arguments raised by Gilens and Page. For one, income inequality is spoken in the 2005 report as an issue mainly contributing to the power of the plutocrats. Indeed, this is what allows for such threats to the American democracy.

“At the heart of plutonomy, is income inequality. Societies that are willing to tolerate/endorse income inequality, are willing to tolerate/endorse plutonomy,” Kapur and his team said.

The question remains whether the Citigroup report is still relevant in contemporary society, especially considering the 2007-08 meltdown that increased attention on the distribution of the wealth. This holds consequences pertaining to the report produced by Gilens and Page and affects our voice in our society.

A recent report by Unity Marketing suggests the answer was yes. In fact, their headline for the press release of their new study for businesses to use was titled “Affluents in the Driver’s Seat of U.S. Economy.”

“I think the most important shift in the economy at large is the growing importance of the affluent (top 20% of U.S. households by income which represent about 24.2 million households) in driving the recovery. The middle-class and lower-income folks have greatly reduced spending power, due to tax changes, unemployment, etc. so the affluent heavy-lifters are behind all the news about retail and consumer spending growing. If you dig a little deeper into the numbers you find it is the affluent behind all the good economic news,” Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, said.

The consumer market for the affluent has its own terms enterprises that prove the authors of the “Plutonomy Report” on how there is no such thing as an “average consumer” in the West. There are just rich consumers and the rest of us.

While it may appear to be ridiculous, the names given to these consumers show the determination to market to the right audience. For instance, there are the “Butterflies,” who are “the most highly evolved luxury consumers who have emerged from their luxury cocoons with a passion to reconnect with the outside world.” Moreover, there the “Luxury Cocooners,  who are focused on hearth and home.” With these terms, it is diffcult to tell whether Unity Marketing is a marketing firm or a lepidopterist firm who do marketing on the side.

Moreover, it seems the rich are living in their own America with their own income to spend compared to the rest of America where it was found last summer 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Journalist Darwin Bond-Graham recently wrote a piece using data from Redfin, a real estate organization, showing sales of homes for the affluent are increasing, while it is declining for “the other 99 percent of the market.”

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A Nation Fails Its Youth When Millions Go to College Presidents, Not Students

12:52 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

A recent report by The Chronicle for Higher Education has found 42 private college presidents made over $1 million in executive pay, up from last year’s figure of 36 millionaire presidents. The list was based on 2011 federal tax data from institutions receiving endowments.

Broken piggy bank with IOU note inside

What hope for tomorrow’s debt-ridden, unemployed college students?

University of Chicago president Robert J. Zimmer was first on the list with $3,358,723 in total compensation. This is an increase compared to former New School president Bob Kerrey’s total compensation of $3,047,703 when he was first last year.  Last year, Zimmer was ninth on the list with $1,597,918 as compensation.

To place the salary in context, the University of Chicago, for the 2011-12 year, had its tuition and fees as $43,780. The average debt of students, in 2012, was $22,663 and 34 percent of students graduated with debt that same year, according to Project on Student Debt.

Last year, when The New York Times reported on the list, Jack Stripling commented on issue that has grown since last year — inflated pay:

‘There’s no indication in these data that boards are retracting in term of presidential pay,’ said Jack Stripling, a senior reporter at The Chronicle. ‘Over the long run, we’re still seeing more presidents who are paid at an elite level.’

One major problem associated with the pay is the focus of universities to attract the best talent for the betterment of the university, despite a major crisis sitting directly in their faces with two out of five college graduates stating their full-time job doesn’t need a degree in the first place.

In fact, student debt has also been a major issue with a recent report by the Project on Student Debt stating seven in 10 college students graduated with debt in 2012 with the average being $29,400 or. As they wrote:

The national share of seniors graduating with loans rose in recent years, from 68 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012, while their debt at graduation increased by an average of six percent per year. Even though the financial crisis caused a substantial decline in private education lending while these borrowers were in school, about one-fifth (20%) of their debt is comprised of private loans, which are typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.

The situation is worsening so much that even The Onion joked on the crisis with a story titled “30-Year-Old Has Earned $11 More Than He Would Have Without College Education.” Yet, the response by the board of trustees at these private colleges (and even in public colleges) is surprise at the thought of their president making less, rather than students facing a future of crisis. As Stripling wrote in a recent article over the matter:

College presidents tend to cringe when their compensation makes headlines, but in some cases trustees are disappointed that their leaders do not rank higher on the national pay scale. Such was the case at the University of Pennsylvania, where board members, in 2010, were surprised to see Amy Gutmann trailing 14 other presidents in The Chronicle’s compensation analysis.

This is occurring when, according to a recent Gallup poll, 93 percent of Americans view college as “important.” Moreover, 73 percent specifically cite college as “very important.” Is the point of college to inflate pay of presidents, while students face a bleak future where one in 10 jobs are retail for example?

Journalist Jeff Madrick penned a piece titled “The Real Lost Generation” in the December edition of Harper’s Magazine that explored the prospect of jobs for youths. In the article, he explored an alarming segment of our society— threat of unemployment:

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Defending the 1 Percent

12:07 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

I support the 1 percent.

It is time in the United States they become a part of our “radical revolution of values.”

Woman panhandling in front of fashion store.

Speaking up for the suffering of our poorest.

I am talking of course of the bottom 1 percent of Americans who live on less than $2 a day. In a world where a list of the top 400 richest Americans can be considered newsworthy, it is high time to give more time to the poorest of Americans who have to suffer as their wealth is stolen by those at top. They cannot be ignored.

This group of Americans, who live on income that is difficult for many people to imagine, is in “extreme poverty.” In 1996, they were just 1.7 percent of all households. In mid-2011, the number rose to 4 percent or a growth rate of 159 percent.

A study conducted by the National Poverty Center, specifically researchers Kathyrn Edin and Luke Shaefer, earlier this year on the other 1 percent stated “1.65 million households with 3.55 million children were living in extreme poverty in a given month.” One disturbing part of the study was how the “Great Recession” affected those in extreme poverty:

[A] rise in the number of households experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment may have also led to a rise in the number of households surviving on virtually nothing. (Emphasis mine)

Let’s briefly pause at this moment to reflect on what we understand so far. When we hear the words “virtually nothing”, what comes to mind?

Surely, we, as a society, have to reach a point where we must criticize what our system so much that it must be abolished. Existence of “bullshit jobs,” as London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber placed it, is directly connected to the problem of such individuals in our society living with “virtually nothing.” But let’s return to the study.

The report notes “assistant programs” for those in poverty has slowed down the overall rate, though notes the rise of poverty highlights how weak the social safety net is for Americans.

It is clear that our current major safety-net programs are playing a vital role at the very bottom, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and are blunting some of the hardship that these households would otherwise face. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the U.S. safety net is strong, or even adequate, when the number and proportion of households with children surviving on less than $2 per day has risen so dramatically over the past 15 years, even after accounting for means-tested transfers

The authors note a major turning point in the 1990s was the signing of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996″ or the “welfare reform” law as the authors placed it. It changed the system from a “need-based” program to a “block grant” program that was easily manipulated by states for their own use. As they elaborated:

[C]ash assistance caseloads have fallen from 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.5 million in December 2011, and only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults. Even during the current period of continued high unemployment, the cash assistance rolls have increased only slightly. ‘Welfare’, in the form of cash assistance, is a shell of its former self.

The signing of the 1996 law was not the fault of Republicans only, but of the Democrats as well. Historian Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States:

The aim of the welfare cuts was to save $50 billion over a five-year period (less than the cost of a planned new generation of fighter planes). Even the New York Times, a supporter of Clinton during the election, said that the provisions of the new law “have nothing to do with creating work but everything to do with balancing the budget by cutting programs for the poor.”

Last year, a New York Times/CBS News poll found “two-thirds of registered voters” viewed him favorably while a whopping 91 percent of Democrats have a “favorable” view of him. This was an individual who remarked the “era of big government was over“, so it is peculiar Democrats would support an individual like Clinton.

There is a section in this study that speaks volumes about the issue of “extreme poverty.” Indeed, the study reports there is an increase of “disconnected” mothers — those with “neither earnings nor welfare” — and experience “multiple barriers to work such as learning disabilities, physical limitations, few work skills, and mental health problems.” The researchers found:

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50 Years Later: Why Dreams Still Matter

9:43 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Where do we go from here? First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. – Doctor Martin Luther King Junior 

President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.

Today, thousands from across the country (and perhaps the globe) will venture in Washington D.C. on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King´s ¨March on Washington¨ that had 250,000 people in attendance. One might ask themselves, if they are unaware of the significance of this event, why marching still matters. It is indeed a question that is relevant and should be discussed.

When King marched in the 1960s, he marched with the idea of changing society and breaking down barriers (originally racial, but it became structural as he lived on). With protests, speeches, organizing, and other bold acts, the spirit of the 1960s was not of legislative change, but of those in the streets that drive such acts to be done.

Fifty years later, such spirit lives on in our society as our problems persist in old and new fashions.

When the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (the removal which is necessary to rally against), which gives power to the federal government to crack down on states that make ¨tests or devices¨for voters, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that:

Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,

Yes, the United States has changed since 1963, but not in the way that Roberts envisions.When Martin Luther King Junior made this statement on the Lincoln Memorial, his words were as relevant as ever:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement´s report, Operation Ghetto Storm, 313 black individuals were killed mostly by police in 2012 or one every 28 hours. Sixty six percent of those killed were between the age of 2 to 31. Moreover, only 13% of those killed were found by police to firing a weapon at them, appearing threatening was the main reason at 47%.

The entire case around Trayvon Martin and acquitting George Zimmerman without penalty is perhaps the best example (and alarming coincidental) that many will rally around today. It is a tragic case that cannot be given justice through words, but best exemplified by pictures of rallies that have happened before and will today.

But the racial discrimination does not end there. Yes, stop and frisk has been ruled ¨unconstitutional¨but the war is still not over. Remember, freedom is never given on a plate, it is fought for by the oppressed against the oppressor.

Take, for instance, calls for NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to be appointed as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. A known psychopath – who believes that stop and frisk worksspying on Muslims is okay, and thinks it is right to go after minorities to ¨instill fear¨ in them – should not be appointed nor be told be an ¨outstanding¨ candidate by a President that is as distrusting as Kelly is.

The reality is that the United States has changed since 1963 as a country into a more oppressed society where it is obvious that change is needed. As King placed it:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

Today is a moment that continues from 1963′s urgency. We are at a time where a myriad number of events go beyond the idea of racism that King would agree to act upon.

Wealth in the United States is at a point that rivals that of the Gilded Age where the rich in society do absolutely nothing while gaining significant wealth at the expense of the lower classes. Features of such inequality are a permanent feature of a system that allows a group to profit at the expense of the majority of the population. The top 1%, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, have gained 121% since 2009!

And for those who are not among the rich, the thought of part-time is not a choice, but forced upon them. A 2013 Gallup poll showed one in five American workers working in part-time. With minimum wage so low, it is no wonder why workers in the fast-food industry, for instance, call for more strikes and a real change to their livelihoods. These are actions committed by individuals to preserve their lives and fight for their rights as people with problems that cannot be solved through charity.

For these few examples, it is no surprise that we see striking parallels of then and now. What is important is that we keep marching on as civil liberties are under the same attack as they were during King and, another pioneer, Malcolm X´s time.

Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years, while officials who have committed war crimes, lied to the public, killed Americans for their own riches are free in society to gain plenty and more. We now have a perfect example of believing our government protects our freedom, while, in reality, they attack the courage and bravery of a whistleblower who acted in good faith for the public. As King once remarked:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

We now know, because of Manning, myriad number of what governments around the world, especially the United States government, are doing against their people in the name of more power.

Edward Snowden, additionally, has shaken up the establishment so much so that the UK government, for instance, has been leaking documents to newspapers and detaining family members of journalists to almost charge them with terrorism. It is no surprise that much of what we see is a form of civil disobedience that the establishment always hated: whistleblowing. We must be reminded of the words by Malcolm X, a legendary and phenomenal human rights advocate in the 1960s:

I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.

Today, when we march, we invoke what King, X, all the others who were there had when the faced their struggles at the time. They had enough of the propaganda that said everything in America was great, that people should be obedient and never become a non-conformist.

With environment catastrophe, we are facing the same thing in our society. Scientists are doing their best to say that we should act now in order to stop it. They are right, we must act now as our future will be in grave crisis.

The Keystone XL pipeline, essentially a pipeline that goes through America while raising our gas prices, has ties that make it another bourgeois attempt to profit at the expense of us. Yet, we have failed to go against it as 67 percent of  Americans support the pipeline’s construction. Here are King’s words that make us ponder on what will happen if nothing is done:

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

There is more that I have forgotten to speak about such as the numerous abortion laws introduced restricting rights of women (and it doesn’t end there for women), services helping those who are mentally ill getting worse with cuts, and having our food be as unhealthy and common than before.  Yet, it is indicative of what our system is and what we must do. As King once remarked, “there is something wrong with capitalism” and it is our job to address it.

And what do we expect from today? We expect people angry, people with energy, people that demand change. A President who ran on a platform of change should not be trusted with anything as his record shows how much he defends the status quo.

But we should be careful of what is happening down there too. When King marched in 1963, he was not as radical with his words as he was when spoke up against the Vietnam War years later. Indeed, Malcolm X stated that while it was a ¨grassroots¨movement and a “revolution” when he went, he felt it was hijacked by ¨national Negro leaders¨ to cool off the movement on behalf of the national government:

This is what they did with the march on Washington. They joined it… became part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all. . .

We have much to learn from Malcolm as we do from King. We are not protesting in hope that Barack Obama and Congress gives the A-O.K. to change America, we are not protesting in hope that one good bill will make us feel better, we are protesting because it is time for change with or without those who want it.

Mistakes are being made among groups who emphasize only one issue or confusing what we need, as evident through the 40,000 environmentalists who marched earlier this year on Washington in hope that Obama will reject the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a waste of time and energy that could be geared to give people a real chance at having their voice heard.

It is important to act because as noted by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese there is a change happening in America and we need it to go against the current system we have in place. We are re-gaining our spirit from the 1960s in an important time of our lives. By sticking with both parties, we accept their failures and commit to inaction that we often fail to see.

Now, King and Malcolm are gone and we cannot continue to live in the past. We should not hope for a new King, a new Malcolm, a new leader to look up to. The reason is because we are the change we are expecting and it is time to act upon it.

Things are different now from then, but does that matter? We still have such feeling in our society that is shunned as the establishment tries to control our voice. We rallied together, with stark differences, in hope that we can make a dream happen for all of us.

It is important to say that dreams still matter. Indeed, those words that have inspired us through speeches, words, actions, photos and more can be defined in a few short sentences by poet Langston Hughes with the title “Harlem” (Alternatively “Lenox Avenue Mural”) :

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over- 
like a syrupy sweet? 

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. 

Or does it explode?

Should we wait until our world explodes along with our dreams? From today’s rally, you will be sure to say there it won’t happen as we move forward. Read the rest of this entry →