All Stories by Tim
Below are all stories written by Tim.
From an Associated Press story today:
Just months after he was deployed to Iraq in 2008, a Marine veteran now suspected in the deaths of four homeless men in Southern California sent his family a short, upbeat video greeting.
The video, which was mostly in Spanish, showed Itzcoatl Ocampo wishing his father a happy Father’s Day and reading an excerpt from Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to his then 10-year-old sister.
The former Marine’s 17-year-old brother, Mixcoatl Ocampo, recalled how happy his family members were when they got the video in the mail that summer. They all gathered around the television in the living room to watch Itzcoatl Ocampo, who appeared in fatigues and talked against the backdrop of an American flag.
“We hadn’t seen my brother since he got deployed,” he said. “Dad saw the video, and when he first saw it he was thrilled.”
According to friends and family, a much darker Ocampo returned home after he was discharged in 2010. His parents separated, and his father eventually became homeless.
Now, Ocampo’s family is left trying to reconcile the smiling, slightly nervous-sounding soldier in the video greeting friends and family with the blankly staring man in the police mug shot accused of murder.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Tuesday to announce charges against Itzcoatl Ocampo. The 23-year-old is expected to be charged with four counts of murder in the serial killings of four homeless men since late December.
He was arrested Jan. 13 after a locally known homeless man, John Berry, 64, was stabbed to death outside an Anaheim fast-food restaurant. Bystanders gave chase, and police made the arrest. Ocampo is being held in isolation at the central jail in Santa Ana for his own safety because of the notoriety of the case, according to Lt. Hal Brotheim, a spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
And on my Facebook page today, I saw this link from a Martin Luther King speech that I’d forgotten, The Casualties of War in Vietnam:
I would like to speak to you candidly and forthrightly this afternoon about our present involvement in Vietnam. I have chosen as a subject, “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam.” We are all aware of the nightmarish physical casualties. We see them in our living rooms in all of their tragic dimensions on television screens, and we read about them on our subway and bus rides in daily newspaper accounts. We see the rice fields of a small Asian country being trampled at will and burned at whim. We see grief stricken mothers with crying babies clutched in their arms as they watch their little huts burst forth into flames. We see the fields and valleys of battle being painted with human blood. We see the broken bodies left prostrate in countless fields. We see young men being sent home half men, physically handicapped and mentally deranged. Most tragic of all is the casualty list among children. So many Vietnamese children have been mutilated and incinerated by napalm and by bombs. A war in which children are incinerated, in which American soldiers die in mounting numbers is a war that mutilates the conscience. These casualties are enough to cause all men to rise up with righteous indignation and oppose the very nature of this war.
But the physical casualties of the war in Vietnam are not alone catastrophes. The casualties of principles and values are equally disastrous and injurious. Indeed, they are ultimately more harmful because they are self perpetuating. If the casualties of principle are not healed, the physical casualties will continue to mount.
What Itzcoatl Ocampo did, apparently murdering four homeless men (he’s not been tried or convicted), clearly is wrong. But we as a society also bear culpability. Sending people off to war is not without predictable hazards. And those hazards extend beyond likely death and destruction of our soldiers and the civilians they encounter. The hazards also extend to those soldiers who return home.
To willfully damage people like Itzcoatl Ocampo, adding a burden to his family and community, for oil or payback in Iraq and whatever the reason was for Afghanistan, that’s profoundly immoral. It violates human decency and requires people be held accountable legally, especially in the case of Iraq which apparently was pursued with lies. To think Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush can retire, that we’ll all get over their stupidity or whatever motivated them, is to ignore people like Itzcoatl Ocampo and his (apparent) victims, the community they live in and Mr. Ocampo’s family.
The AP piece also includes these timely details, given the economic injustice in our country:
Ocampo’s father, 49-year-old Refugio Ocampo, said his son came back a changed man after serving in Iraq, expressing disillusionment and becoming ever darker as his family life frayed and he struggled to find his way as a civilian.
The father said he lost his job and home, and ended up living under a bridge before finding shelter in the cab of a broken-down big-rig he is helping repair.
Just days before his elder son’s arrest, Itzcoatl Ocampo came to visit his father, warning him of the danger of being on the streets and showing him a picture of one of the victims.
“He was very worried about me,” Refugio Ocampo told The Associated Press on Sunday. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry. I’m a survivor. Nothing will happen to me.’”
And this bit, which every person who hates illegals should be forced to read:
A neighbor who is a Vietnam veteran and the father both tried to push Itzcoatl to get treatment at a Veterans hospital, but he refused. Refugio Ocampo said he wanted his son to get psychological treatment as well.
“He started talking about stuff that didn’t make any sense, that the end of the world was going to happen,” he said.
While Refugio Ocampo lives away from his family, they remain close. He saw his children every day, and his wife brings food to the parking lot where the truck is located in the city of Fullerton.
Refugio Ocampo, who said he was educated as a lawyer in Mexico, immigrated with his wife and Itzcoatl in 1988 and became a U.S. citizen. He described building a successful life in which he became a warehouse manager and bought a home in Yorba Linda. In the past few years he lost his job, ran out of savings, lost his house and separated from his wife.
Standing near the truck where he sleeps, Refugio Ocampo fought back tears as he described the changes he saw in his son in the year since returning home.
Yet another American, playing by the rules, doing most everything right, loses everything and has nothing left but family. And a son who comes back from a war and apparently cannot handle what he experienced.
My son the other day asked me what this poem meant and it seems relevant in every era:
‘No Man is an Island’
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
We need more people like Dr. Martin Luther King, don’t you think? Our country would be, could be, a much better place for families like the Ocampos.
Presumably you’ve seen this at the NY Times:
UNLESS something changes in Washington, American workers will, on New Year’s Day, effectively lose their right to be represented by a union. Two of the five seats on the National Labor Relations Board, which protects collective bargaining, are vacant, and on Dec. 31, the term of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer whom President Obama named to the board last year through a recess appointment, will expire. Without a quorum, the Supreme Court ruled last year, the board cannot decide cases.
What would this mean?
Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.
If this nightmare comes to pass, it will represent the culmination of three decades of Republican resistance to the board — an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental right of workers to band together, if they wish, to seek better pay and working conditions. But Mr. Obama is also partly to blame; in trying to install partisan stalwarts on the board, as his predecessors did, he is all but guaranteeing that the impasse will continue. On Wednesday, he announced his intention to nominate two pro-union lawyers to the board, though there is no realistic chance that either can gain Senate confirmation anytime soon.
The author was NLRB chair during the Clinton years. While I don’t agree fully with some of his comments, clearly this is one issue that deserves more notice and debate. Either workers have rights or they don’t. If they do have rights, they need a reasonable enforcement capability to support their rights.
Part of what I disagree with is the idea that Obama is at fault if the NLRB falls apart, by nominating worker-friendly members to the board. I agree members of the board should be mostly non-partisan professionals, not ideological hacks. But if the board exists to protect worker rights, then the bias on the board should be towards appointing members who will defend those rights. Presumably businesses that disagree with the board on an issue have their own resources and will protect their interests, as well. And Senators should respect this dynamic. Otherwise, Senators are agreeing with Republicans that workers have no rights.
It also goes without saying that without unions wage suppression becomes even more pronounced and the ability to have a viable middle class disappears in the US (it’s already gone, in many ways).
Congress spared the 100-watt incandescent light bulb from a government-enforced phaseout in a win for Tea Party activists over manufacturers who said they are already switching to more energy-efficient products.
Lawmakers cleared legislation today to fund the government through Sept. 30, with a provision barring the Energy Department from carrying out the elimination of the pear-shaped bulb. Groups backing small government urged Republican allies to block the requirement, calling it an example of regulatory overreach in keeping with the health-care overhaul and the Wall Street bailout.
The federal standards limit the “freedom of average Americans” to buy whatever type of bulb they wanted, Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said yesterday in an interview before the House voted 296-121 for the bill. The Senate voted 67-32 today and sent the legislation to President Barack Obama.
But here’s the interesting bit:
While business groups back Republican efforts to repeal or delay clean-air standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, light-bulb makers including General Electric Co. (GE) joined Democrats and environmentalists to defend the light- bulb law signed by President George W. Bush.
U.S. manufacturers invested millions of dollars updating factories to produce more efficient bulbs — including a halogen version with the incandescent model’s pear shape — according to Kyle Pitsor, vice president for government affairs with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, whose members include Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE and Royal Philips Electronics NV (PHIA) of Amsterdam.
Other companies may exploit regulatory uncertainty and continue to sell the 100-watt bulbs, leaving manufacturers that comply at a disadvantage, Pitsor told reporters yesterday on a conference call with organizations that support the efficiency standard. He didn’t name those companies.
The provision creates “confusion in the market for every American who is interested in securing their own energy savings for their families and their communities,” Philips said in an e-mailed statement.
One more case where Republicans and their subsidiary, the Tea Party™, refuse to acknowledge the existence of the public interest. It’s apparently okay for every individual to do whatever they want no matter the cost to our larger society. We have no right to intervene in sensible ways to avoid predictable bad outcomes like climate change. Presumably they draw the line at murder. And clearly they don’t draw the line at Wall Street criminality. This also is a case where harnessing the selfish economic interests of companies like GE can be put to good use. The difference between a politics of selfishness and a politics of public interest could not be more stark, even on such a small issue.
And I hate these new bulbs, waiting 5-10 minutes for them to fully light. But I’m happy to put up with it if doing so helps achieve a larger goal.
From a press release at the Bradley Manning Support Network:
Speaking at a press conference this morning at the European Parliament, elected officials representing a broad spectrum of political parties expressed their strong concerns about the mistreatment of accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning. They released a letter signed by dozens of Members of Parliament to officials in the White House and U.S. military, which read in part:
“We are troubled by reports that Mr Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and other abusive treatment tantamount to torture.”
The full text of the letter is included below. Today’s press conference follows on a revelation by Manning’s counsel, David Coombs, that military officials have refused to provide the defense team with video-recordings that were made while Manning was subjected to periods of forced nudity during part of his confinement.
“Every day that the Obama administration persists in their refusal to respect basic standards of civil and human rights, they will become increasingly isolated in the eyes of the international community,” said Jeff Paterson, an organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network. “They know that the show is over, but they’re too embarrassed to hand over the video.”
In a recent “Defense Request for Evidence” that was made public earlier this week, Manning’s chief counsel David Coombs revealed that the Obama administration has been withholding favorable evidence from his defense team. They noted that military prosecutors have not turned over a damage assessment conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which found no adverse impacts on national security caused by the information exposed via WikiLeaks.
“The White House has known for some time that these revelations never posed a threat to our national security,” said Kevin Zeese, a legal adviser with the Bradley Manning Support Network. “They aren’t violating Manning’s civil liberties for the sake of his safety or our own, but rather for the psychological impact these abuses are intended to convey.”
Legal observers have noted that the legitimacy of any trial against Manning has already been compromised by numerous rights violations on the part of the Obama administration. Among these violations are substantiated concerns related to due process, freedom of speech, fifth amendment rights, undue command influence, and unlawful pretrial punishment that may have amounted to torture.
So Obama turns out to be as reptilian as Bush and Cheney (no small feat, the latter) in obstructing justice and avoiding accountability. Who knew? There are little details in here that I’ve not read about in the major media: forced nudity, withholding favorable evidence like a positive DIA damage assessment. And remember, too, one Wikileaks revelation showed Obama working with Republicans to quash a legitimate judicial court investigation into US torture by Bush, Cheney, and others in Spanish courts, two months after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. If Wikileaks damage is small or neutral, perhaps Obama is using government power to punish Manning for embarrassing him and other officials?
While it’s unclear if EU parliamentarians have sufficient political standing with the US media to warrant coverage, it will be interesting to see if the media follows up on the facts/charges in this story.
A break from the usual, for those of us who run, from the NY Times:
It’s what Alberto Salazar, for a while the world’s dominant marathoner and now the coach of some of America’s top distance runners, describes in mythical-questing terms as the “one best way” — not the fastest, necessarily, but the best: an injury-proof, evolution-tested way to place one foot on the ground and pick it up before the other comes down. Left, right, repeat; that’s all running really is, a movement so natural that babies learn it the first time they rise to their feet. Yet sometime between childhood and adulthood — and between the dawn of our species and today — most of us lose the knack.
We were once the greatest endurance runners on earth. We didn’t have fangs, claws, strength or speed, but the springiness of our legs and our unrivaled ability to cool our bodies by sweating rather than panting enabled humans to chase prey until it dropped from heat exhaustion. Some speculate that collaboration on such hunts led to language, then shared technology. Running arguably made us the masters of the world.
So how did one of our greatest strengths become such a liability? “The data suggests up to 79 percent of all runners are injured every year,” says Stephen Messier, the director of the J. B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University. “What’s more, those figures have been consistent since the 1970s.” Messier is currently 11 months into a study for the U.S. Army and estimates that 40 percent of his 200 subjects will be hurt within a year. “It’s become a serious public health crisis.”
Buried in this wonderful story, however, is a cautionary tale of what has happened to this country over the past three decades.
Turns out that running shoes most likely are the reason so many runners get injuries. Worse, running shoes are pushed like drugs to sustain a billion dollar industry:
Bob Anderson knows at least one thing changed, because he watched it happen. As a high-school senior in 1966, he started Distance Running News, a twice-yearly magazine whose growth was so great that Anderson dropped out of college four years later to publish it full time as Runner’s World. Around then, another fledgling operation called Blue Ribbon Sports was pioneering cushioned running shoes; it became Nike. Together, the magazine and its biggest advertiser rode the running boom — until Anderson decided to see whether the shoes really worked.
“Some consumer advocate needed to test this stuff,” Anderson told me. He hired Peter Cavanagh, of the Penn State University biomechanics lab, to stress-test new products mechanically. “We tore the shoes apart,” Anderson says. He then graded shoes on a scale from zero to five stars and listed them from worst to first.
When a few of Nike’s shoes didn’t fare so well in the 1981 reviews, the company pulled its $1 million advertising contract with Runner’s World. Nike already had started its own magazine, Running, which would publish shoe reviews and commission star writers like Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson.
“Nike would never advertise with me again,” Anderson says. “That hurt us bad.” In 1985, Anderson sold Runner’s World to Rodale, which, he says, promptly abolished his grading system. Today, every shoe in Runner’s World is effectively “recommended” for one kind of runner or another. David Willey, the magazine’s current editor, says that it only tests shoes that “are worth our while.” After Nike closed its magazine, it took its advertising back to Runner’s World. (Megan Saalfeld, a Nike spokeswoman, says she was unable to find someone to comment about this episode.)
“It’s a grading system where you can only get an A,” says Anderson, who went on to become the founder and chief executive of Ujena Swimwear.
Just as the shoe reviews were changing, so were the shoes: fear, the greatest of marketing tools, entered the game. Instead of being sold as performance accessories, running shoes were rebranded as safety items, like bike helmets and smoke alarms. Consumers were told they’d get hurt, perhaps for life, if they didn’t buy the “right” shoes. It was an audacious move that flew in the face of several biological truths: humans had thrived as running animals for two million years without corrective shoes, and asphalt was no harder than the traditional hunting terrains of the African savanna.
For the writers among us, there also are these great bits of rhetoric to enjoy:
“He has turned a small town in an obese state into a running-crazed bastion of health,” Larson says. “Mark’s effort in transforming Shepherdstown is a testament to what a single person can accomplish.”
Cucuzzella began trying it himself. As I watched, I recalled another lone inventor, a Czechoslovakian soldier who dreamed up a similar drill: he’d throw dirty clothes in the bathtub with soap and water, then jog on top. You can’t heel strike or overstride on slippery laundry. There’s only one way to run in a tub: the one best way.
At the 1952 Olympics, Emil Zatopek became the only runner ever to win gold medals in all three distance events: 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon, the first he ever ran. Granted, “the Human Locomotive” wasn’t a pretty sight. During his final push to the finish line, his head would loll and his arms would grab at the air “as if he’d just been stabbed through the heart,” as one sportswriter put it.
I plan to try and run barefoot after learning this method. Anyone else want to try? And I learned something about Nike (aside from their sweat shops) and the art of selling (needless) running shoes. Indeed, I’ve been saving money for a new pair of running shoes, waiting to wear out my five year old pair. Now I’ll spend the money on hard liquor instead. I’m due a couple trips to the bar after a long hard and dry year.
Came across this amazing graphic in an email from a Bold Progressives campaign encouraging people to move their money. This is (and was) a great idea that in 2009 (?) even got a lot of national visibility then sadly disappeared. For some reason, you’d think regional banks and credit unions would advertise “we’re not too big to fail” but they don’t and never did.
Unfortunately, I had to hack the chart above. Bold Progressives should make this easily available to bloggers and anyone else who want to help get the word out. But the chart also got me thinking: how could we do a merger chart for the media? Pharmaceutical companies? Insurance companies? Telecoms? How hard would it be to find the data? This sort of chart makes it abundantly clear how working people are being choked by bigger and bigger companies that offer less and less choice. My hunch is that only the later mergers were not vanity mergers, a merger that some insecure CEO dreams up to inflate their ego and their bank account (encouraged and egged on, of course, by Wall Street M&A types).
How could this hyper-consolidation ever be good for any country? 37 banks merged into 4 banks. Amazing. And dangerous.
The New York Times has a chart that, while presumably accurate to the facts (Emmanuel Saez’s IRS data is used, along with public data about income from Forbes and other sources), is horribly inaccurate in terms of relativity.
Unfortunately, I can’t replicate the chart here, in part because one key problem is the technology the Times uses. You have to scroll up and down to see data for specific groups. In the start position, for example, with .01% highlighted, you’d think the chart says the bottom 90% of income starts at $386,000. Only when you scroll down does it become clear the focus changes, the yellow highlight background moves, and the data becomes “accurate.”
Another issue is the pyramid on the right. We’re supposed to believe the width and height of the pyramid represents the relative percentages of people in each income group. However, the bottom 90% pyramid is not 10 times as wide as the next group above, 132 million in the bottom 90% compared with the 13.2 million in the top 10%. The better image would’ve been what Paul or someone else described at Open Left awhile back, imagine a parade of people of people who represent wealth and income. The size of people would be within a somewhat narrow range until the very end of the parade when people would start to be 20 feet tall, 30 feet, 50 feet, and 100 feet tall. And then the parade would be over abruptly: the number of outsized people is so tiny relative to the rest.
While I don’t expect much from the Times, this sort of botched representation is depressing because it is what passes as the historical record. And I wonder what Saenz thinks of this use of his data? While the Times chart hides the gross disparity between the haves and have nots in this country, there is plenty of data that is not so reassuring. For example, I’ve yet to see the Times report on income for all five income groups 1945 to 1980 to compare with the 1979-2009 data the CBO released in the past week. That data comparison clearly shows the failure of US economic policy in the Reagan era. For example, here are two charts from the basic Inequality.org page, which is not hard for the Times to find and uses much the same data:
Top 1% Share of Pre-Tax Income 1913 to 2009
Source: Congressional Budget Office, Average Federal Taxes by Income Group, “Average After-Tax Household Income,” June, 2010.
Average After-Tax Income by Income Group 1979 to 2009
Source: Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(1), 2003. Updated to 2008 at http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/saez.
Unfortunately, I can’t find the 1945 to 1979/1980 Average After-Tax Income by Group. Maybe someone has that handy?
This article speaks for itself, from the NY Times:
Some on Wall Street viewed the protesters with disdain, and a degree of caution, as hundreds marched through the financial district on Friday. Others say they feel their pain, but are befuddled about what they are supposed to do to ease it. A few even feel personally attacked, and say the Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been in Zuccotti Park for weeks are just bitter about their own economic fate and looking for an easy target. If anything, they say, people should show some gratitude.
“Who do you think pays the taxes?” said one longtime money manager. “Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.”
He added that he was disappointed that members of Congress from New York, especially Senator Charles E. Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, had not come out swinging for an industry that donates heavily to their campaigns. “They need to understand who their constituency is,” he said.
and this bit:
John Paulson, the hedge fund titan who made billions in the financial crisis by betting against the subprime mortgage market, has been the exception. His Upper East Side home was picketed by demonstrators earlier this week, but Mr. Paulson offered a full-throated defense of the Street, even going so far as to defend the tiny sliver of top earners attacked by the Occupy Wall Street protesters — whose signs refer to themselves as “the other 99 percent.”
“The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state,” he said in a statement. “Paulson & Company and its employees have paid hundreds of millions in New York City and New York State taxes in recent years and have created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.”
Mr. Paulson’s point is moot: wealth is impossible without taxpayer funded infrastructure and paying 12-15% on a billion earned is not enough to keep the wealth engine going. At the same time, no human being can spend more than $50 million a year, tops, without some kind of psychological problem. Above some number, the needs of society at large to provide health care (45,000 Americans a year die needlessly because they can’t afford it), clean water, a solid public education (so everyone has the same chance for development), and all the rest, at some point the needs of society trump Mr. Paulson’s apparent need for every last dollar.
It’s another example, perhaps, of well-educated people who are incompetent. They’re good to great at pushing money around, maybe, if you don’t count what happened in 2008. Oh, they’re great at taxpayer bailouts, especially when Wall Street wives are allowed to get in on the gravy train. That’s true.
But they’re incompetent when it comes to the big picture: no mention that 80% of income gains from 1980 to 2005 went to the top 1%, no mention from 1945 to 1980 all income groups doubled their income while 1980 to 2008 all but the top 1% saw income gains above 50% (and the top 1% had income gains from 240% to 400%). No mention of the many ways wages have been suppressed for three decades. No mention that these greed heads exist in any society larger than themselves. That’s incompetence.
Maybe it is time for a revolution. Sadly, and completely needlessly.
But I do love the unnamed money manager (the Times, practicing excellent journalistic skills again!) calling out New York’s two Senators for not kissing Wall Street’s ring. And notice the Times can’t bother to note Paulson (“the hedge fund titan,” an uncritical suckup phrase) was Treasury Secretary who screamed for and got taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street, presumably working for Wall Street all the while paid by taxpayers, presumably knowing about alternatives to bailouts that historically have yielded better results, for example, letting banks fail then nationalizing them and bringing in new management then selling the banks off in 5-10 years.
That’s de-luxe journalism right there. Shame on their editor. Then again, maybe the Times editor lives in the same building as Mr. Paulson, who knows? Comic is from the Times, too, their sense of humor apparently being better than their journalism in this case.
From the NY Times:
The Internet banking services that have been sold to customers as conveniences, like online bill paying, serve as powerful tethers that keep them from jumping to another institution.
Tedd Speck, a 49-year-old market researcher in Kent, Conn., was furious about Bank of America’s planned $5 monthly fee for debit card use.
But he is staying put after being overwhelmed by the inconvenience of moving dozens of online bill paying arrangements to another bank.
“I’m really annoyed,” he said, “but someone at Bank of America made that calculation and they made it right.”
Former bankers and market researchers say that it’s no accident. The steady expansion of online bill paying, they say, has emboldened Bank of America, as well as rivals like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and SunTrust, to turn to new fees on customer accounts as other sources of revenue dry up. The fees have caused an uproar among consumers and drawn sharp criticism from politicians, including President Obama.
“The technology locks you in and they’re keenly aware of it,” said Robert Smith, who was chief executive of Security Pacific when it was bought by Bank of America in 1992. “It’s very hard for consumers to just ditch that.”
For years, banks have openly sought to attach as many loans and services as they can to a customer, like credit cards, mortgages and mobile phone banking.
What they haven’t mentioned are marketing studies like the one commissioned by Fiserv, which develops online bill paying systems, showing that using the Internet to pay bills, do automatic deductions and send electronic checks reduced customer turnover for banks by up to 95 percent in some cases.
With 44 million households having used the Internet to pay a bill in the past 30 days — up from 32 million five years ago and projected to reach 55 million by 2016 — it’s a shift that has major ramifications for competition.
There’s even evidence that fewer consumers are switching banks, with 7 percent of them estimated to be moving their primary account to a different institution in 2011, down from 12 percent last year, according to surveys by Javelin Strategy and Research.
For the young ‘uns out there, back in the day, when new technology like TV and radio came along, the government stepped in on behalf of all Americans to ensure the technology was not used in a way that benefitted a few at expense of the many. That’s how we got radio and TV licenses, the Fairness Doctrine, restrictions on who could own how many media outlets in a market, and other policies. And that’s why the few have spent the last three decades dismantling these policies that benefit us all.
In this case, clearly the government should and must step in to ensure online bill paying is portable. There is zero technical reason the companies that manage the bill paying flow cannot work in a way that lets us change our account information, and banks, once and have all our bill payments continue. Zero. As in none. Banks are allowed to hold us hostage because politicians are either in bed with them OR too clueless to realize what is possible.
The article also mentions National Bank Transfer Day, a great idea but we’ll see how it works out.
From a new book published by the Library of America, with a piece by Susan Orleans:
Question: Why don’t more babies work? Excuse me, did I say more? I meant, why don’t any babies work? After all, there are millions of babies around, and most of them appear to be extremely underemployed. There are so many jobs—being commissioner of major-league baseball, say, or running the snack concession at the Olympic synchronized-swimming venue—and yet it seems that babies never fill them. So why aren’t babies working? I’ll tell you. Walk down any street, and within a minute or so you will undoubtedly come across a baby. The baby will be lounging in a stroller, maybe snoozing, maybe tippling a bottle, maybe futzing around with a stuffed Teddy—whatever. After one good look, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that babies are lazy. Or worse. Think of that same baby, same languid posture, same indolent attitude, but now wearing dark sunglasses. You see it all the time. Supposedly, it has to do with UV rays, but the result is that a baby with sunglasses looks not just lazy but lazy and snobby. Sort of like an Italian film producer. You know: “Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Baby isn’t available at the moment.
No, Mr. Baby hasn’t had a chance to look at your screenplay yet. Why don’t you just send coverage, and Mr. Baby will get
back to you when he can.”
and this bit:
One recent summery morning, I walked across Central Park on my way to my own place of employment—where,
by the way, I have to be every day whether I want to or not. The Park was filled with babies, all loafing around and look-
ing happy as clams. They love summer. And what’s not to like? While the rest of us, weary cogs of industry, are worry-
ing about an annual report and sweating stains into our suits, the babies in the park are relaxed and carefree and mostly
nude—not for them the nightmare of tan marks, let alone the misery of summer work clothes. And what were they doing
on this warm afternoon? Oh, a lot of really taxing stuff: nap ping, snacking on Cheerios, demanding a visit with various
dogs, hanging out with their friends—everything you might do on a gorgeous July day if you were in a great mood, which
you would be if you didn’t have to work for a living. That morning, I was tempted to suggest a little career counselling
to one of these blithe creatures, but, as I approached, the baby turned his attention ferociously and uninterruptibly
to one of his toes and then, suddenly, to the blade of grass in his fist. I know that look: I do it on buses when I don’t want anyone to sit next to me. It always works for me, and it worked like a charm for this I-seem-to-remember-telling-
you-I’m-in-a-meeting baby. I was out-foxed and I knew it, so I headed for my office. As I crossed the playground,
weaving among the new leisure class, I realized something. The reason babies don’t work? They’re too smart.
Perhaps Mr. Dimon, Mr. Blankfein, and the other little loafers simply need their nappies changed? Or perhaps they should switch to a career like professional baby where their behavior is more accepted, less notable, and far less dangerous to the rest of us. God knows they have more than enough money to change careers.
From a very odd hit piece at Reuters, of all places:
Anti-Wall Street protesters say the rich are getting richer while average Americans suffer, but the group that started it all may have benefited indirectly from the largesse of one of the world’s richest men.
There has been much speculation over who is financing the disparate protest, which has spread to cities across America and lasted nearly four weeks. One name that keeps coming up is investor George Soros, who in September debuted in the top 10 list of wealthiest Americans. Conservative critics contend the movement is a Trojan horse for a secret Soros agenda.
Soros and the protesters deny any connection. But Reuters did find indirect financial links between Soros and Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada which started the protests with an inventive marketing campaign aimed at sparking an Arab Spring type uprising against Wall Street. Moreover, Soros and the protesters share some ideological ground.
“I can understand their sentiment,” Soros told reporters last week at the United Nations about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, which are expected to spur solidarity marches globally on Saturday.
Pressed further for his views on the movement and the protesters, Soros refused to be drawn in. But conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh summed up the speculation when he told his listeners last week, “George Soros money is behind this.”
Note this line: “There has been much speculation over who is financing the disparate protest …”
Yeah? Who is speculating? Republicans certainly. Most likely neo-liberal Democrats who cater to the wealthy (that would be you, Mr. Obama, with the recent trade deals, among other Democrats). The whole article is built on following up this self-interested gossip. However, the Reuters journalists are too lazy and inept to bother to clarify this key point.
If they did clarify, there would be no hit piece. The piece, instead, might be about how Republican and Democratic politicians are threatened by these protests, forced between supporting the status quo and the 1% and changing course to support the 99% who have been ignored for decades. Do you rush through trade deals supported by Big Money or do you pass a jobs bills with no payroll tax cuts to Social Security? Journalists should ask Obama and Congress members exactly this question: How can you pass treaties friendly to Big Money that has questionable impact on US jobs (otherwise you’d not need millions for retraining) when people are out in the streets protesting they’ve had enough? Why a jobs bill that helps gut Social Security with payroll tax cuts when millions of elderly people can’t live without it? Why cut Medicare instead of returning the tax rate on extreme wealth to the 1945 to 1975 tax rates of 65-90%?
There’s also some amazing projection going on here, especially with Limbaugh. The right, starting with Freedom Works and amplified by Fox, Roger Ailes, and other parts of the Republican Borg literally created the Tea Party overnight with lots of immediate funding and media amplification. Apparently, they cannot imagine any equally passionate protest without astroturfing. The idea that mildly connected groups could tap into the zeitgeist is beyond their conception. Perhaps because they’re used to controlling everything in their world (the aristocratic, top down, Strict Father mindset).
What’s disturbing is that Reuters would publish this sort of trash. Turns out that Soros donated to a group, the Tides Center, which gets funding from different sources, then Tides donated money to Adbusters. That’s their journalistic evidence that Big Money, the Liberal Edition, controls Occupy Wall Street.
The reality is that Big Money, the Republican Edition, plus Big Business plus their lobbyist lackeys and wholly owned politicians finally trashed the country long enough to piss off enough people. Enough that a bunch of people saying they’re fed up resonates throughout this country. If Reuters wants to practice serious journalism, they should focus on the reasons Republicans are so convinced Occupy Wall Street is secretly funded (perhaps because the Tea Party is, by Republicans?) and why so many Americans are upset with the status quo. Reuters has fallen for the Republican frame, “this thing is so big it must be secretly controlled by a few people with money.” Once you buy into this frame, and you find George Soros, you can invalidate the protests and the reasons for the protests. With Reuters helping do your dirty work.
Reuters would do better to tell the stories of the 99% who are being screwed. Plus the stories of the winners, the 1%, how they live in shameless excess while 45,000 Americans a year die for the crime of not being able to afford health care. The facts are out there, easy to find, easy to see.
Found some more interesting coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests, in case you’ve not seen these stories.
First, from the NY Daily News, some great context for NYPD arresting 1,000 people and counting so far, in Denis Hamill’s piece, Different rules for Occupy Wall Street marchers & that makes me mad as hell:
I thought of [Paddy] Chayefsky when MAD-AS-HELL young people filled the streets of the Middle East in the Arab Spring, toppling scummy leaders, as we in the west cheered. The same way we cheered when brave young people filled Tiananmen Square. The way we saluted the East Germans breaching the Berlin Wall.
But when a swelling tide of harmless MAD-AS-HELLERS calling themselves Occupy Wall Street overtakes Zuccotti Park to inveigh against the swindlers, fat cats and “banksters” of Wall Street we arrest them.
Pundits mock them for not having leaders, a united message, a political platform. Maybe that’s because it was egghead economists with grand plans and crooked politicians with self-serving platforms that got us where we are today. Forgive these angry young people if they don’t follow the beat of the same broken drum.
They’re just MAD-AS-HELL.
Misunderstanding their scattered frustrations is one thing. But did we really have to pen them like flounder in orange nets and bus them to Rikers because they dared to march across the Brooklyn Bridge?
Excuse me, when I was a young reporter in the mid-1970s I remember cops marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to protests Mayor Abe Beame laying off cops and other municipal workers.
On Sept. 16, 1991, I covered a mob of 10,000 furious city cops storming across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to protest the establishment of a police monitor. Some of those cops stomped across parked cars, jumped police barricades, assaulted journalists, and mobbed the steps of City Hall chanting, “Take the Hall, Take the Hall,” some referring to Mayor David Dinkins as “a men’s room attendant.”
Mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani addressed them like a firebrand, using the word “bull—-,” to describe Dinkins policies.
But I didn’t see cops rounded up in orange nets like the catch of the day. Didn’t see 700 of them bussed off to Rikers in cuffs.
In 2001 cops again marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest against Mayor Giuliani who’d used the NYPD cops, the best in the world, to mark his place in history by cutting crime in half and then stiffed them on a pay raise.
Funny, I don’t remember the NYPD locking up police protesters that day either.
I don’t think they should have. As a child of the ’60s I’m all for anyone marching and protesting to be heard.
But why the hell is NYPD brass so afraid of these nonviolent, MAD-AS-HELL Occupy Wall Streeters?
This is terrific context people should highlight early and often with these protests: there is a huge double standard at work here. The police, who are part of the 99% being oppressed by the status quo, were only too eager to do what they’re locking people up for today. The police should be held accountable. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s the YouTube page.
Bill Maher’s monologue is both brilliant and hysterical. He lays out facts in an easy to understand way that is not terribly polite. And his idea for a reality show along the lines of Secret Millionaire, called Shine My Shoes Fuckface, is hysterical and right on. We’re inundated by propaganda that supports economic oppression, no other way to describe these shows.
FWIW, on one point Maher raises, this idea that wealth trickles down, that rich people can (and do) make the world better by sharing their wealth every time they see a poor person struggle is both bunk and at least as old as the 1740s. I happened to finish reading Smollett’s The Adventures of Roderick Random today and an otherwise great book is ruined by precisely this dynamic: Random goes through all kinds of hell in his life but it’s all patched up when his dad shows up with money. Then Random gets to shower largesse to all his friends. This dynamic is in dozens of other novels from the 1700s and 1800s that I’ve read in the past few years. It’s complete bunk. The sooner we get over this idea that concentrated wealth benefits everyone, the better off we’ll all be. There’s a reason government provides help better than rich people or religious groups: they can spread the cost across more people while ensuring minimum standards of response for all who need help. Plus government is far more accountable compared to individuals and private groups.
But watch the video. It’s amusing and worth it.
Have you noticed the Occupy Wall Street protests have suddenly gone mainstream? Maybe there is some hidden 14 day or 15 day or 18 day trigger that only the media knows about before they’ll cover protests that challenge their view of the world.
More seriously, here is a quick round up of what I’ve seen that people may want to discuss. Feel free to add yours in comments or posts.
First, a silly meme from MSNBC, Wall Street rallies could be left’s Tea Party:
Born on the streets of New York, growing protests aimed at the heart of capitalism have sparked hope among liberals that they’re witnessing the birth of a movement to counter the conservative Tea Party.
The pieces are all there: ordinary citizens banding together for a cause; signs and protests announcing their grievances. Could the nation be witnessing the creation of a new political uprising?
The “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations started last month in New York and have since spread across the country, born out of anger toward the financial community’s success during a time of prolonged economic hardship.
Liberals are optimistic that those protests will translate into the kind of lasting political movement achieved over the last two years by the Tea Party, which helped reshape the trajectory of American politics, particularly within the Republican Party.
Yeah I saw the Koch brothers on the street the other day, passing out wads of money to the protestors, didn’t you? And there’s an astroturf organization with some clever Orwellian name that organizes these protests, right? This meme seems a great fit for Fox where I also heard at least one talking head saying this with a straight face. However, getting Bernie Sanders to say Obama should co-opt these protests is bizarre and out of touch with what is happening with the protests and in the country. Obama is part of the problem. Read the rest of this entry »
Can you tell I’m annoyed Andrew Cuomo has high favorable ratings as he rabidly pursues Republican policies to cosset the extremely wealthy and torment everyone else? To bring you up to speed, Cuomo told a public employees union to vote to cut their future pay and pay more in health care premiums or else he would fire 3,500 of them. Well they voted their interests and voted no. Now Cuomo is firing them. He calls it layoffs but it is removing people from good, presumably living wage, jobs out of spite.
The best part, according to David Cay Johnston, a real reporter formerly of the New York Times, there’s plenty of money available if only NY politicians would go after it, Ignoring Tax Cheats:
Each year New York State lets real estate investors evade at least $200 million of taxes. In peak years the figure likely rises to $700 million, if known tax cheating in another state is any indication. Some of the investors who cheat New York State also cheat New York City out of at least $40 million annually.
Back in the 1990s Jerry Curnutt figured out how to finger such cheats when he was the top partnership specialist at the Internal Revenue Service. Curnutt’s computer sifted through tax returns until he learned how to separate thieves from honest taxpayers. The tax-evasion estimates of $200 million and $40 million are his.
Six New York state tax auditors took classes Curnutt taught in June 2000 and gave stellar evaluations. California’s top tax auditor praised Curnutt’s course as “effective, relevant and most importantly, appreciated and understood by our auditors.”
Why has nothing been done for more than 11 years to make the cheats in New York pay what the law requires?
New York state and city are strapped for cash, slashing services for the poor, disabled and elderly. With penalties of up to 50 percent plus interest at penalty rates, the state is easily due more than $5 billion from years still open to collection, I calculate. (my emphasis)
Every state has similar issues, but New York matters most as the epicenter of highly leveraged real estate investment pools.
Curnutt found that real estate investment partnerships with depreciated properties often misreport gains when they sell. That such cheating is widespread screams about tax law enforcement looking the other way when those at the top steal. In contrast, New York State has a well-deserved reputation for going after people whose mistakes cost the state as little as three dollars.
Johnston even calls out the specific NY politicians who could easily call in some (or all) of this tax money by threatening to investigate, by publicizing the issue. Andrew Cuomo is at the top of the list. So is the Lieutenant Governor, Bob Duffy, a former street cop, and state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Only Schneiderman might do something but it’s a test for him: he’s supposedly hot after banks who cheated homeowners but maybe not so much with rich people who fund campaigns?
Bottomline, firing 3,500 workers is a needless exercise for Cuomo. He could get the savings by asking for a tax amnesty. Or enforce the law and go after these wealthy politically connected tax cheats. It’s bad enough that Cuomo refuses to make extremely wealthy New Yorkers pay anything extra as he cuts desperately needed jobs and funding for the middle class and the poor. The tell, for me, is that Rupert Murdoch’s Post apparently is a huge fan of Cuomo and his policies. Presumably you have to be a Republican win that “honor.”
As with the Amazon sweat shops in eastern Pennsylvania, I also wonder where the unions are on this issue? You’d think they’d be touting Johnston’s findings as push back. You’d think they would define Mr. Cuomo as a Republican (which he is, at the policy level) and drive up his negatives. Instead I only hear crickets (actually, literally, it’s night and the windows are open). At what point do unions realize this is a cage death match with Republicans like Cuomo and they have to fight back or lose everything? Politesse has gotten them nowhere, except harassed and now fired.