Helen of Marlowe's Blog

A UU Forum on Occupy

Posted in "North Carolina", corporatocracy, Economy, Government, NC, Politics, Unitarian, UU, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 7, 2012

At our Sunday morning forum yesterday (2/5/12), our guest speaker was Ethan Smith, representing the local Occupy Winston-Salem group. Most UUs (Unitarian Universalists) are familiar with Occupy and some have been participants.  I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter and occasional participant.

Here's a screenshot of me (on right) at a protest against Wells Fargo, when the top Wells Fargo management was speaking our the convention center. Since we don’t have a TV, my son Chris sent me this screenshot. I was surprised he recognized me, since it was such a fleeting report, and he didn’t know I was participating (probably didn’t even know about the event).

 

Occupy’s mission includes public education and civic participation to reveal the 1%’s crimes centering in war and money, end the crimes through arrests of the criminals, and enact policies for 100% of Earth’s inhabitants.

A hand-out gave a little bit of the history and philosophy of Occupy, and talked about local issues:

“Occupy Winston-Salem stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the globe as a non-violent, leaderless movement of Americans united to fight the corporate abuse of our democracy, and to take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests and assert our rightful place in the political process.” The handout goes on to mention “the shackles of corporate greed.”

Ethan recounted some of the recent activities of the local group, talked about the commitment to non-violence, and  about the reliance on rotating facilitators at meetings.   Although there have been extreme police reactions to protesters in some cities, the local Winston-Salem police have done their profession proud.  Our local police, our protesters, and our city officials have worked in co-operation.  Some Winston-Salem churches have given strong support.

A UU member (one who is not involved in Occupy, and I don’t know whether or not he sympathizes) objected to the word greed, saying our narrative is wrong. I (though I didn’t speak out) think some of the language often used to describe the Occupy movement reveals a lack of understanding.  I often hear that the Occupiers are pushing for  “redistribution of wealth” (or of income). There are many people who will mis-interpret that, sometimes deliberately.  I think  “redistribution of opportunity” or “expansion of opportunities” is a more accurate description of what we in Occupy want.  Or how about distributive justice.

Ethan talked about our government’s encroachment on liberties, such as the Patriot Act, NDAA, laws and ordinances limiting free speech, arrests of journalists, mass arrests of protesters, such as, in NYC, 700 protesters arrested at once, with journalists being swept up along with protesters.

Freedom of the press in the US has fallen to 47th in the world

Other UUs wondered why Americans are complacent. The data has been out there for years – the data on the wealthy getting richer while the middle class fades into history amidst government policies that favor the powerful.  Why are people so complacent? Is it because we are constantly told we must keep up with sports, fashion, acquisitions and amusements, and so we don’t pay attention to our democracy?  Another UU  suggested the nature of coverage in the news media invites confusion and shallow understanding – everyone tries to look as though they are  “fair and balanced” – and gave as an example the Komen controversy in which news reports did not link this with  faith-based initiatives and the connection of a Komen leader with the congressional investigation of an organization that didn’t need investigating.

I believe there is much than can be done to make America work for all of us.  How about  a tiny tax on stock trades, especially on high frequency ‘flash’ trading.  How about huge fines for corporate criminals, the CEOs of the “corporate people”, aka banks,  responsible for evictions based on robo-signing?

Economic mobility in America has stalled. “Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.” (From The Economist) And as Jason DeParle writes in the New York Times, social mobility is a lot lower in America than in most other developed countries.   The   “work hard and save” formula doesn’t work any more.   Now the best advice for Americans is to choose your parents wisely.

Regardless of where Occupy goes from here, the movement has forced our nation to discuss the increasing inequality that has been hurting middle-income workers for thirty years.

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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.

How Do They Fool So Many Voters?

Posted in "North Carolina", Economy, Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on October 10, 2011

I’ve never known anyone over the age of 13 to be as obsessed with sex as the current NC Republican legislators. They were hired to create jobs and improve the economy, but they’ve done nothing so far except insert themselves into the private lives of citizens. They’ve cut the budget so severely that the UNC system has had to cut more than 3,000 positions. This, they think, creates jobs? They’ve cut and closed government offices, putting many thousands of public employees out of work. Do they think that moving people out of jobs and into the un-employment lines is good for the economy? Our NC – DOT has just cut 400 positions. Will putting those 400 people onto the un-employment rolls help the economy? Our NC Republican legislators have passed laws curtailing women’s reproductive rights to a degree not seen (correct me if I’m wrong, anyone) in any other state, and approximately equal to the reproductive rights of the most restrictive theocracies. Not because they care about babies — I see no evidence that they care a whit about babies — but because they want to abolish the individual right to privacy. They are now spending their (our?) time and energy and tax money working on passing a Marriage Amendment to the NC constitution. Yep, not just a law, but a Constitutional Amendment! To strengthen it, I believe, against a possible newly elected and saner legislature changing that in future.

And this is the party that claims it wants to get big government out of our private lives. It’s clear their main goals are 1) causing as much damage to the economy as possible, so as to ensure our president will not be re-elected, and 2)  control the private lives of individual citizens.  How is it that they can fool so many voters?

US Uncut – Coming Soon to a City near You

Posted in Economy, Government Politics by helenofmarlowe on March 2, 2011

US Uncut!

As everyone in the house that night will attest, I got pretty excited when I read about UK Uncut in the January 21 issue of The Nation.   I fervently hoped this movement would cross the ocean.
To summarize (and oversimplify) the article (read Johann Hari’s article in The Nation!),  UK Uncut began when a group of British citizens in a pub wondered why the new Conservative government in Britain is imposing the most extreme cuts to public spending since the 1920s.  Among their many observations was this:  All the cuts in housing subsidies, driving people out of their homes, are part of a package of cuts to the poor, adding up to 7 billion pounds. Yet one of Britain’s leading cellphone firms, Vodafone, owed an outstanding bill of 6 billion.
So if this one company had been made to pay its taxes, these people would not have been forced out of their homes.
These people announced a national day of protest, and soon, so many British citizens were staging protests that several Vodaphone stores were shut down.   My favorite line in this story:

“Prime Minister David Cameron wants axed government
services to be replaced by a Big Society, in which volunteers
do the jobs instead.  So UK Uncut announced it was the Big
Society Tax Collection Agency.”

The movement has indeed jumped over the ocean.  See http://usuncut.org/

In the US, $100 billion annually is lost because of corporations putting their money into offshore tax havens.   Instead of cutting funds to schools and libraries and CPB, why not just collect the  $100 billion owed to the US by corporations.

One thing you may not know, if you get your news from mainstream media (or from Fox Broadcasting, heaven forbid) — or even from NPR, which has now become dependent upon corporate sponsors — is that in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker — who has been in office only five weeks! — inherited a state budget surplus.  In five weeks  Governor Walker  turned the surplus into a deficit.

The governor called a special session of the state legislature and signed business tax breaks  that lower  tax revenues.  These tax breaks were not offset, and this helped turn a surplus into a deficit.  As Brian Beutler  writes in Talking Points Memo, “public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda.”  These acts by Governor Walker  turned Wisconsin’s surplus into a deficit.

Now this quote comes not from a liberal source, but from the respected financial publication  Bloomberg Businessweek:

Walker and other Republican leaders in the state have made a big deal of the “gold-plated pensions” of state workers, yet median state and  local pensions in Wisconsin are less than $23,000. Fewer than 2 percent receive pensions of $100,000, the threshold bantered around in the ress as commonplace. These pensions are most likely the managers and top administrators, as well as senior police and firefighters, who, coincidentally, are excluded from Walker’s draconian legislation.

According to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, 83 of the top 100 publicly traded corporations that operate in the US exploit corporate tax havens. Since 2009, America’s most profitable companies,  including Exxon, GE, and Bank of America such all paid a grand total of $0 in federal income taxes to Uncle Sam.

I hope this movement swells beyond containment.   I will not start a chapter in Winston-Salem, but if one does form I will join it.


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