Income inequality, the 99 percent, and the dysfunction of American society | via Esquire | #uspoli #OWS

Income inequality is a symptom, not the disease. People realize that now. They see the symptom erupting in all directions, but, at a visceral level, they can sense the deeper pathology at work in their lives. The disease is a lack of accountability, a failure of the responsible institutions, political and otherwise, to do their jobs as a check on the inebriate gluttony of the financial sector of the economy, abetted by its pet economists and its legions of fans in the business media, and the disease is also a political system so awash with the proceeds that it can’t clear a space to do anything about making whole the victims of this reckless pilferage.

Income inequality is the medical shorthand. The butcher’s bill will run to volumes.

A little further reading on how the United States got to where it is today.

Note the backhanded compliment paid to the New York Times, and how people missed the signs leading to this in the 90s because “a pack of ignoramuses decided to chase the president’s penis all over Washington.”

Not much to add to this, really, other than to note, once again, that there are people currently governing our country who look at what’s going on in the United States – ignorance, distractions, polarization in economic and cultural terms, belligerent stupidity – and think it’s a good thing worthy of emulation.

I know I keep going on about the cultivation of stupidity, but demented greed isn’t a civic virtue either.

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The cruel reality of the American class system: We Are Not All Created Equal | #classwarfare #uspoli

There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here’s one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you’re gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you’re gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can’t bear to tell themselves isn’t real. It’s the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.

More than anything else, class now determines Americans’ fates. The old inequalities — racism, sexism, homophobia — are increasingly antiquated [fig. 1]. Women are threatening to overwhelm men in the workplace, and the utter collapse of the black lower middle class in the age of Obama — a catastrophe for the African-American community — has little to do with prejudice and everything to do with brute economics. Who wins and who loses has become simplified, purified: those who own and those who don’t.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/thousand-words-on-culture/american-class-syst…

It may be the day after Christmas, but this seems more appropriate for Halloween. This is some scary shit.

Retreating to the comfort zone in the face of something like this would usually point to some nostrum like “well, at least we’re talking about it openly.” But the thing about nostrums is that they’re designed to soothe, to paper over, to stifle discussion and make confrontation with unpleasant truths easier to avoid. I don’t find any comfort in that, and in truth, I’d have grave doubts about anyone who did.

We can’t congratulate ourselves for being able to talk about class, about inequality, about polarization between haves and have nots. Or more accurately, we can, but we shouldn’t. Talking about something honestly is all very well, but if you’re not prepared to pursue the implications of what you’re talking about, you might as well not bother.

So let’s address those implications. Is this what we want for our country, our future? Is this the kind of society we want to become? If so, then as Marche argues, the least we can do is have an honest conversation about it.

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From @mtaibbi, a Christmas message from Wall Street | #classwarfare #uspoli

Apparently, we’d all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

Matt Taibbi plays his violin for the poor, victimized, super-rich of America. The sociopathic ways they behave, their parasitic and corrupting effect on civil society, and their open contempt for everyone else … of course, there aren’t any lessons for Canada in any of this.

Nor could we possibly see any of this in terms of class, because of course, this is America, where anyone can make it to the top if you just work hard enough. Bootstraps and all that.

(Say the C word, Matt. Come on. You can do it.)

(h/t Edstock at The Galloping Beaver)

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@mtaibbi on How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the #OWS Protests | #Occupy #OccupyTO

This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

The right-wing media wasted no time in cannon-blasting the movement with its usual idiotic clichés, casting Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of dirty hippies who should get a job and stop chewing up Mike Bloomberg’s police overtime budget with their urban sleepovers. Just like they did a half-century ago, when the debate over the Vietnam War somehow stopped being about why we were brutally murdering millions of innocent Indochinese civilians and instead became a referendum on bralessness and long hair and flower-child rhetoric, the depraved flacks of the right-wing media have breezily blown off a generation of fraud and corruption and market-perverting bailouts, making the whole debate about the protesters themselves – their hygiene, their “envy” of the rich, their “hypocrisy.”

The protesters, chirped Supreme Reichskank Ann Coulter, needed three things: “showers, jobs and a point.” Her colleague Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the protesters hypocrites for having iPhones. OWS, he said, is “Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters [denouncing] corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over.” Apparently, because Goldman and Citibank are corporations, no protester can ever consume a corporate product – not jeans, not cellphones and definitely not coffee – if he also wants to complain about tax money going to pay off some billionaire banker’s bets against his own crappy mortgages.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, there were scads of progressive pundits like me who wrung our hands with worry that OWS was playing right into the hands of assholes like Krauthammer. Don’t give them any ammunition! we counseled. Stay on message! Be specific! We were all playing the Rorschach-test game with OWS, trying to squint at it and see what we wanted to see in the movement. Viewed through the prism of our desire to make near-term, within-the-system changes, it was hard to see how skirmishing with cops in New York would help foreclosed-upon middle-class families in Jacksonville and San Diego.

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

Matt Taibbi nails it in Rolling Stone, along with the spurious and idiotic charges of “hypocrisy.” (In the process, he’s highlighted a lovely example of what some of us like to call #SattvaLogic.) In the words of Inigo Montoya, critics of the movement keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what they think it means …

In Toronto, our chief magistrate says he’s hearing from all kinds of people who want the St. James encampment shut down. He’s here to represent businesses and taxpayers, he says. (What about citizens, Mr. Mayor? What about all those people you hear from about burying subways — the ones that turn out to be voices in your head? We’ll just leave that alone for the moment.) Maybe he needs to hear from supporters as well. 416-397-3673.

Chris Hedges Arrested in Front of Goldman Sachs – via Truthdig | #OWS #classwarfare #uspoli

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Chris Hedges made this statement in New York City’s Zuccotti Park on Thursday morning during the People’s Hearing on Goldman Sachs, which he chaired with Dr. Cornel West. The activist and Truthdig columnist then joined a march of several hundred protesters to the nearby corporate headquarters of Goldman Sachs, where he was arrested with 16 others.

Chris Hedges’ statement in Zuccotti Park:

Goldman Sachs, which received more subsidies and bailout-related funds than any other investment bank because the Federal Reserve permitted it to become a bank holding company under its “emergency situation,” has used billions in taxpayer money to enrich itself and reward its top executives. It handed its senior employees a staggering $18 billion in 2009, $16 billion in 2010 and $10 billion in 2011 in mega-bonuses. This massive transfer of wealth upwards by the Bush and Obama administrations, now estimated at $13 trillion to $14 trillion, went into the pockets of those who carried out fraud and criminal activity rather than the victims who lost their jobs, their savings and often their homes.

Goldman Sachs’ commodities index is the most heavily traded in the world. Goldman Sachs hoards rice, wheat, corn, sugar and livestock and jacks up commodity prices around the globe so that poor families can no longer afford basic staples and literally starve. Goldman Sachs is able to carry out its malfeasance at home and in global markets because it has former officials filtered throughout the government and lavishly funds compliant politicians—including Barack Obama, who received $1 million from employees at Goldman Sachs in 2008 when he ran for president. These politicians, in return, permit Goldman Sachs to ignore security laws that under a functioning judiciary system would see the firm indicted for felony fraud.

via truthdig.com

The difference between Democrats and Republicans:

Democrats cluck their tongues and pretend to give a shit about stuff like this. Republicans would rather foam at the mouth about the menace of sharia law and gay marriage.

Toward the end of his statement, Hedges declares that it’s up to the 99 percent to reaffirm the rule of law. I wish I had something more clever to say than “the law is whatever the 1 percent say it is.”

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A nice bit of anti-bankster agitprop | #OWS

moveyourmoney2.pdf Download this file

Not sure at this point whether Papandreou’s Eurozone referendum is a go or not, but I’ll settle for this in the meantime.

Well, look … no one said changing the narrative was going to be easy. Baby steps … 

Also, this #FTW.

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Slavoj Zizek on why the traditional media and mechanisms of ‘democracy’ can’t figure out the #Occupy movement

Once you have reduced the Tahrir Square protests to a call for Western-style democracy, as Applebaum does, of course it becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests with the events in Egypt: how can protesters in the West demand what they already have? What she blocks from view is the possibility of a general discontent with the global capitalist system which takes on different forms here or there.

‘Yet in one sense,’ she conceded, ‘the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians.’ She is forced to the conclusion that ‘globalisation has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.’ This is precisely what the protesters are drawing attention to: that global capitalism undermines democracy. The logical further conclusion is that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its current form, based on multi-party nation-states, which has proved incapable of managing the destructive consequences of economic life. Instead of making this step, however, Applebaum shifts the blame onto the protesters themselves for raising these issues:

‘Global’ activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout: ‘We need to have a process!’ Well, they already have a process: it’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

So, Applebaum’s argument appears to be that since the global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to manage it will accelerate the decline of democracy. What, then, are we supposed to do? Continue engaging, it seems, in a political system which, according to her own account, cannot do the job.

via lrb.co.uk

A compelling essay from the LRB sums up, beautifully, why traditional analysis and conventional communication channels can’t deal with the global Occupy movement.

I’m not going to single out Anne Applebaum; Zizek’s done that already, and dissected her argument far more elegantly than I can. But it’s worth pointing out that she really doesn’t have much to suggest other than traditional electoral politics. She’s not alone in that, of course, but if the Occupy movement symbolizes anything — and its significance is, as much as anything, in the fact that it can’t be compartmentalized or reduced to an easily digestible storyline — it’s the failure of such conventional forms of politics.

Not hard to see why, really. Sure, we can vote every now and then, but it’s not as if voting is doing much to rein in the bankster class or slow down the growth of the inequality gap. The formalities of responsible government and social cohesion may be observed, but it doesn’t take much to see the substantial failures.

What’s needed, if I’m reading Zizek right (no guarantee there), is a fundamental rethink of what’s included in the “political” sphere. Setting the terms for such a rethink is a daunting task, but we can be fairly certain that we won’t find much guidance in the corporate media or in contemporary mechanisms of democratic governance.

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Wall Street Firms Spy on Protesters in Tax-Funded Center | #OccupyWallStreet | AlterNet

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“Wall Street’s audacity to corrupt knows no bounds and the cooptation of government by the 1 per cent knows no limits. How else to explain $150 million of taxpayer money going to equip a government facility in lower Manhattan where Wall Street firms, serially charged with corruption, get to sit alongside the New York Police Department and spy on law abiding citizens.”

Anyone still not sure about the extent and intensity of the current class war? Anyone still have any doubts about the nature of power in the United States, and why and on whose behalf it is exercised?

@mtaibbi puts Rush Limbaugh and #OccupyWallStreet in perspective | #OccupyTO #OWS

Got a flurry of emails yesterday after the inimitable Rush Limbaugh lumped me and Dylan Ratigan in with the behind-the-scenes power structure. Apparently Rush got hold of Breitbart’s story about the email list and decided to run with it:

Journalists have been advising the protesters – emails have been found. Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC and some guy named Matt Taibbi… Dylan Ratigan and Matt Taibbi are sending emails back and forth with organizers , telling them how to position their demands, how they can improve their coverage.

Here Rush paused before making his Sherlock Holmesian deduction from these facts:

This whole thing is a construct of the media-Democrat complex, industrial complex…

I nearly fell over laughing when I heard this. What the fuck is the Media-Democrat-Industrial Complex? Has Rush been reading Noam Chomsky books on the side? Calling any group that includes me and Glenn Greenwald an “industrial complex” is extremely high-concept comedy. We should have t-shirts made…

(Also, I love the phrase “emails have been found.” Actually, it was more like “a sleazy cyber-provocateur and amateur FBI informant stole the emails.” But who’s quibbling?)

Anyway, if you listen to the whole Rush segment, you can hear frustration and croaking, bullfroggish anxiety in his voice at the fact of so many different politicians capitulating, at least verbally, to OWS. He’s sensing that politicians are seeing danger in the “99%” concept, and he’s expressing dismay that everyone from Mitt Romney to Barack Obama is now trying hard to position himself as not being in the 1%.

This isn’t evidence that mainstream politicians are caving to the movement, of course, but what it does show is that those same politicians are endorsing OWS rhetoric, and by extension tacitly admitting the basic truth of the great-many-versus-very-few protest narrative.

Rush chalks this up to a media deception, a mirage of TV images and “media-Democrat-industrial complex” manipulations designed to con the country into believing in the existence of a mass movement.

The reality, of course, is that people like Rush, Romney and Obama are all becoming cognizant of the deep frustrations that exist across the political spectrum and are growing desperate to prevent the powder keg from blowing completely – hence the intense effort to describe OWS as a top-down manipulation.

Of course the notion that this is all a media fabrication is ludicrous. Dylan Ratigan didn’t invent four million people in foreclosure, he didn’t invent ten trillion dollars in bailouts, and he didn’t invent Wall Street’s $160 billion bonus pool the year after the crash of its own creation.

People out there do not need media figures to tell them how fucked things are, or how pissed they should be that the same bankers who caused the crash are now enjoying state-supported bonuses in the billions, while everyone else gets squeezed.  As someone who has been covering this stuff for three years, I can say with confidence that people across the country don’t need a push to be angry. They’re already there, and have been there for years. Rush should go hang out outside a foreclosure court in his home state of Florida for a few hours, if he wants to see where the rising heat under these protests is coming from.  

Anyway, the hysterical responses from the Rushes of the world are just more signs that these protests are working. I never thought I’d see it, but some of the dukes and earls high up in America’s Great Tower of Bullshit are starting to blink a little bit. They seem genuinely freaked out that OWS doesn’t have leaders or a single set of demands, which in addition to being very encouraging is quite funny.

via rollingstone.com

Taibbi may be the best political journalist in America today, and not just because he says “fuck” every now and then. With the possible exception of @KeithOlbermann, I don’t know anyone else who can navigate the fever swamps of the far right with such elan.

Once again, though: no lessons for Canada in any of this. Nope …

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