Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Credit where credit is due

Posted in Government, Obama, Politics by helenofmarlowe on November 21, 2011

I came across this (click photo to see) post on Facebook. Darrell Garrett, whom I don’t know, is apparently a friend of a friend, and that’s how I saw this. (Anyone with more than 750 friends is bound to cross that six-degrees-of-separation line somewhere.) I wanted to respond to Mr. Garrett’s challenge, since he says that no one has been able to. But I don’t know how to write in the “response” block. I don’t hang out on FB a lot. Perhaps FB allows responses only from Friends. And I think Mr. Garrett and I would agree on one thing at least – that we would not be companionable Friends.

Click to open

I’ve been disappointed with President Obama. He has moved much further to the right than I expected, and he seems to have been very late in discovering that what he called negotiating we called betraying his supporters. He has referred to liberals as “sanctimonious”. And like everyone else in American politics he has become beholden to big money. Some of his largest contributions come from Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Time Warner, IBM. But in this era of he-with-the-most-money gets the most “free” speech, I don’t know what he can do about that.

But he does deserve some credit, so here goes: my late-night effort to look for reasons to support President Obama.

1. President Obama has proposed a Jobs Bill that will reduce unemployment, and will not increase the deficit. Republicans have blocked it, but he has done what he can do get around the blockade.

2. He has created a Consumer Protection Agency, which you will benefit from. The Republicans have tried to gut it of all it’s authority and have refused to accept as its leader the woman who has done the most work on it, but at least it now exists.

3. He has appointed two moderates to the Supreme Court, moderates who actually have legal credentials and high scores from the bar.

4. He has cut taxes for the middle class and for small business, and has tried valiantly to reduce the loopholes that allow the rich to take more and more from the poor. (Yes, hard-earned money from the working poor IS being re-distributed to the rich. And no corporations actually pay the tax rate that Republicans are fond of quoting.)

5. He captured Osama bin Laden

6. He has made some effort to address the very real and serious environmental problems.

7. He has put a stop to the policy of allowing politicians to re-write scientific reports.

8. He has instituted a more humane policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to travel to visit their parents and children.

9. He has removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research.

10.He can put a sentence together, even a compound or complex sentence, complete with subject and verb. This may not be important to you, but it is important to our standing in the larger world.

Would anyone care to add to my list? Or challenge my list?

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Advice From The 1%

Posted in corporatocracy, Economy, Government, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on November 17, 2011

Listening to Marketplace the last few weeks I’ve heard two commentaries that were so good I had to look them up and read them. Both are about the Occupy protests.

Here’s commentator Elspeth Gilmore.

Elspeth Gilmore: I am the 1 percent. I recently marched on Wall Street with the 99 percent. I stand with the 99 percent, but I marched for myself, too. For decades, the U.S. economy has been organized to boost the wealth of the 1 percent.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, 40 percent of all wealth gains between 1983 and 2009 went to the 1 percent. Eighty-two percent went to the top 5 percent. All the rules of the economy have been tilted in my favor. Yet it is not in my interest to allow the disparities of wealth to keep growing. We should not have to hoard wealth in this society in order to keep our families healthy or to get an education. Health and a good education should be rights.
My job at Resource Generation is to organize wealthy people under 35 who want to change this. There are more than 1,500 of us who know that our lives would be better if we personally had less and we could all rely on a collective safety net. We need to re-imagine what is possible.
I want to live in a world where we together provide the basic needs of all people: adequate infrastructure and roads, well-funded school systems, clean water systems, innovative transportation and health care for all.
We need a more just economy — and one of the ways to get there is for people like me to pay higher taxes. Lets change the policies that keep the wealth in the hands of a few. Let’s increase millionaire taxes and end loopholes for corporations. Please tax the income from my investments at least as much as my earned income, it’s common sense.
So let me say this as plainly as I can. Tax me, tax the 1 percent. If the 1 percent had less money, we — a 100 percent of us — would be better off.

Of course, listener/reader responses always include the one about how she can give as much as she wants – nothing to stop her from paying extra. I’m never sure whether people who say that actually expect to be taken seriously.

Josh Brown, Reformed Broker, has toned his language down just a bit from a previous column, but still gets his point across. Better actually, I think.  And his clear summary of our grievances  is worth review.

Josh Brown: In 2008, the American people were told that if they didn’t bail out the banks, their way of life would never be the same. In no uncertain terms, our leaders told us anything short of saving these insolvent banks would result in a depression to the American public. We had to do it! At our darkest hour we gave these banks every single thing they asked for. We allowed investment banks to borrow money at zero percent interest rate, directly from the Fed. We gave them taxpayer cash right onto their balance sheets. We allowed them to suspend account rules and pretend that the toxic sludge they were carrying was worth 100 cents on the dollar. Anything to stave off insolvency. We left thousands of executives in place at these firms. Nobody went to jail, not a single perp walk. I can’t even think of a single example of someone being fired. People resigned with full benefits and pensions, as though it were a job well done. The American taxpayer kicked in over a trillion dollars to help make all of this happen. But the banks didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The banks didn’t seize this opportunity, this second chance to re-enter society as a constructive agent of commerce. Instead, they went back to business as usual. With $20 billion in bonuses paid during 2009. Another $20 billion in bonuses paid in 2010. And they did this with the profits they earned from zero percent interest rates that actually acted as a tax on the rest of the economy. Instead of coming back and working with this economy to get back on its feet, they hired lobbyists by the dozen to fight tooth and nail against any efforts whatsoever to bring common sense regulation to the financial industry. Instead of coming back and working with the people, they hired an army of robosigners to process millions of foreclosures. In many cases, without even having the proper paperwork to evict the homeowners. Instead, the banks announced layoffs in the tens of thousands, so that executives at the top of the pile could maintain their outrageous levels of compensation. We bailed out Wall Street to avoid Depression, but three years later, millions of Americans are in a living hell. This is why they’re enraged, this why they’re assembling, this is why they hate you. Why for the first time in 50 years, the people are coming out in the streets and they’re saying, “Enough.”

Is this Direct Democracy in action? Are any tangible results unfolding?  Will the  ‘Super Committee’ consider and be affected by the Occupy movement?  Are the Occupiers losing public support, as several polls suggest?

It will be interesting these next few weeks as winter, and holidays, and First Amendment lawsuits play out, and the petition asking Mayor Michael Bloomberg to resign in the wake of his eviction of the protesters.  As Thom Hartman puts it, Bloomberg had the wrong target. Instead of evicting the protesters in Zuccotti Park, he should have sent his police  in riot gear to evict Goldman Sachs.

Our  UU (Unitarian Universalist) Fellowship has issued a statement in support of the Occupiers.

Locally, Occupy Winston-Salem has  approval from the City Council’s Public Safety Committee to camp in a parking lot downtown.   The full City Council will have to approve the permit at next Monday’s meeting.  I think they will.

Free Lunch

Posted in Economy, Government, Government Politics by helenofmarlowe on November 16, 2011

I am reading Free Lunch, by David Cay Johnston.

Mr. Johnston’s book is not making me happy.  Maybe it’s not the best choice for bedtime reading.

 There’s not a whole lot in there that I don’t already know in theory, but it sure can get me riled up when I read the details.

If you’re not already supporting the Occupiers,

if you’re not quite as disgruntled as you ought to be about the Supreme Court ‘s ruling in Citizens United and you don’t really think corporations are people, and if you haven’t signed the petition for a constitutional amendment taking the money out of political campaigns at  http://www.getmoneyout.com/

then try reading Free Lunch.

It is hard to be optimistic about the future of this nation.

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It’s Move Your Money Week! And so I did.

Posted in "North Carolina", Economy, Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on November 11, 2011

This is Move Your Money Week. And so I did.

 I’ve been happy with Wachovia for more than 30 years. But Wachovia is no more, and Wells Fargo, nee Wachovia, is now charging fees that Wachovia never charged while, according to Reuters, Wells Fargo paid Chief Executive John Stumpf compensation worth $21.3 million for 2009. A year ago, Wachovia/Wells Fargo began charging me a $25 fee for my unsecured line of credit. I’ve had that unsecured $15k for thirty years, never paid for it, and never used it except occasionally due to carelessness – it’s my overdraft protection.

Maybe Mr. Stumpt is worth $21million a year, every year. It doesn’t really look like much when compared to the $43.7 billion in taxpayer bailout funds that went to Wells Fargo. And the $25 annual fee for an unsecured line of credit that I almost never use isn’t going to make a difference in my vacation plans.

But our country’s rising income inequality troubles me. Increasingly wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, and not because they have worked harder, but because they have influenced the laws that rig the rules. We like to think of America as the land of opportunity, and that once was true. But for the last three decades, economic mobility has become harder in the US than in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany or Spain.

Much is amiss in the rigged and under-regulated economy that has seen corporate taxes as a share of the nation’s tax revenues plunge from 28 percent in 1956 to only 11.8 percent in 1996 and to below 10 percent in the early 2000s.

The share of all property taxes paid by corporations dropped from 45 percent in 1957 to 16 percent in 1995 (more recent figures are hard to find, as most states have changed their accounting rules to not break out corporate from personal tax payments, in response to lobbying pressures from corporations).

After decades of campaign contributions from lenders, legislators have re-written the banking rules to favor the banks over the people. Much of this corporate-friendly legislation was even written by the Corporations, instead of by the legislators whose job it is.  (See  http://alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed  — ALEC Exposed.) So today I moved my checking, savings, money market and credit card to the State Employees Credit Union. And as soon as I’m sure all my charges have cleared, I’ll cut my Bank of American credit card and mail it – or maybe take it – to the bank that notoriously took bail-out funds, gave CEOs huge salaries, and paid no taxes.

It isn’t that hard to Move Your Money, and it will help the economy of your own community.

“Our Marketplace is Rigged by Polluters”

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Government, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on November 10, 2011

We went to see Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last week.

The Yadkin Riverkeeper sponsored Mr. Kennedy’s visit to WFU, and he was the best, most enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and entertaining speaker I’ve heard in a long time.

I had pen but not paper, so I took notes in the tiny white spaces around a tri-fold Honda ad.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and activist, called for a major government investment in a smart grid to deliver wind-turbine and solar energy to homes nationwide and free the U.S. economy from its dependence on Middle East oil. The United States is rich with clean energy resources, from geothermal heat in the Midwest to wind farms in Montana, Texas and North Dakota to solar energy in the Southwest, he said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Wait Chapel, WFU

Kennedy advocated a transition from a carbon-based economy to one powered by solar and wind, saying clean energy is key to our economic and national security. He spoke of the wind farms in the Great Plains and Midwest states, and solar power fields in the sunny Southwest, such as the Nevada desert, saying they could provide all the electricity needed for every building and vehicle in the U.S., and said there is enough wind in just North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas to meet all of the country’s electricity needs. In a true free market, solar would out-compete coal, oil, and nuclear, but our marketplace is rigged by polluters. When coal claims to produce electricity at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s not counting the $345 billion/year tax subsidies and it’s not counting the tremendous environmental pollution that taxpayers pay to clean up. It’s always been illegal to pollute, he said, citing the 1888 Rivers and Harbors Act. In the 17th c people were executed for polluting the commons.

Kennedy was erudite, but his message was sobering.  We can’t count on our representatives in Raleigh, or in Washington.  Currently, he said, “we have a marketplace with rules written by polluters.” He cited several specific examples, including political interference in 2007 by J. Stephen Griles, then deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior and a former lobbyist for the National Mining Association, who managed to change the definition of the word “fill” instead of preventing the coal companies from contaminating rivers with their mountain-top removal fill.

Kennedy talked about electric cars, which he said cost about 6 cents mile and are becoming more affordable, and he spoke with some optimism of Vantage Point Switch bulbs.  These were not new ideas (I already have some of the expensive Philips LED bulbs in lamps), but his enthusiasm made it all seem new, and he added fine details that were new to me.  He talked about Liquid Robotics – robots that move across the ocean at about 1 1/2 knots, powered by underwater wings. Looking something like window blinds, the wings tilt up when the craft is lifted by a wave, rising through the water and pulling it forward. On a down wave, the wings sink and tilt downward, pulling the craft forward.

Leaving the auditorium, I had the fleeting thought that it would be good for Kennedy to follow the footsteps of his uncles into public office, into the White House, but on second thought, he is probably doing more good where he is,  defending the environment against industrial polluters.

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