Occupy Wall Street: Too Big To Fail?

The combination of Occupy Wall Street and Social media may mark the end of the invisible hand. With the rise of crowd sourcing and location-based services it could be that the consumer actually solves the economic crisis. It would mean a paradigm shift from the losing battle of employee vs employer to “the customer is always right”.

Occupy Wall Street is a testament to the concept of “jobless recovery”. Higher stocks and corporate profits don’t constitute a recovery when states are cash strapped and American’s are experiencing stagnant wages and record unemployment. The fact that lower-income wage earners experience a recession first and recover last is as old as civilization, but this time things may be different. When the Occupy Wall Street movement began I was surprised only in that it wasn’t a response to a single event or catalyst. Now I’m beginning to think it could be the catalyst.

Some of OWS activities included asking customers to close their accounts at bailed out banks and switch to local worker-owned credit unions. At the Occupy Austin event a couple of speakers mentioned shopping farmers’ markets and buying local. There could be something to this, Austin not only weathered the recession better than most cities, but even corporate chains here know there are consequences to displaying a questionable commitment to the community.

People would have probably remained blissfully ignorant of wealth disparity as long the 40-hr work week paid the bills, insurance, mortgage and allows for modest savings.  According to a Wall Street Journal article 53% of workers surveyed said they’ve taken on new roles, with just 7% getting a raise or a bonus. People are catching on to the more work less pay trend. Most American’s don’t want to be rich, they want to fulfill their own pursuits of happiness.

if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home. Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria (Harvard Business Review Nov. ’10)

If our financial system were not on the brink of a double-dip recession and small businesses could get loans and hire people there would be no movement. Instead people have lost faith in their political and economic leaders whose only response has been to claim the climate is bad for “job creators”.  The Wall Street Journal reports that US multi-nationals cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s and increased employment overseas by 2.4 million. It could be that if the current leadership doesn’t get it together and address the jobless part of this recovery the people just may take it into their hands.

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Rick Perry jabs Occupy Wall Street at Value Voters Summit

He may not have addressed it directly but Rick Perry referred to the Occupy Wall Street movement in his latest address to the Value Voters Summit.

You know Liberals are now pointing the finger of blame at successful employers under the guise of fairness, but when they utter phrases like “fair share” you just know, heh, they’re once again playing fast and furious with the truth. And the truth is you can’t reve up the engine of economic growth by heaping higher taxes on job creators, you can’t spread success by punishing it, you can’t unite our country by dividing it.

The answer to our troubles lies in a positive optimistic vision with policies rooted in American Exceptionalism.

He has the last part right but most Americans would not look at the state of the financial sector as a “success”. The lack of rules and ethics that allowed for multi-national credit card companies to prey on young people at college campuses putting them and our country further into debt is not my idea of American Exceptionalism.

Perry also mentioned a Wall Street Journal article that indicated, “Nearly Half of U.S. lives in household receiving government benefit”. Now, much like the famed “Rich people pay half of all income taxes” this claim also deserves some scrutiny. First it serves to point out that all but 18% of Americans will pay payroll taxes. This is a federal tax on working people, fine, but at least give them credit for paying into the system.  The headline infers that slightly more than half of the U.S. do not receive a government benefit. This is one of the many ways the supply-side media tries to have it both ways. They would have you believe the government is funded by the wealthy and they receive no benefits such as tax breaks, loan guarantees, bailouts, loopholes or special access to government officials.

The graph below represents how many American households are receiving specific government benefits like Social Security, Medicare and food stamps. Notice while the trend nears 50% in 2010 the unemployment rate hovers around 9%. This means that less than 10% of the working age population is unemployed yet nearly half the households still need additional government assistance, a clear product of stagnant wages. Juxtaposed against the next graph you can see as CEO pay increased dramatically employee wages remained level.  Now consider the rise of inflation, cost of living and loss of benefits over the past two decades and we have a recipe for economic malaise.

The Increase in executive compensation correlates almost exactly with the number of households receiving “a government benefit” for the same time period. I would contend that the Wall Street occupiers are not interested in taking money from the rich but when they work hard to create wealth for a company or institution they expect to share in their own success. If people continue to believe that working harder will not increase their standard of living or take home pay we will lose the motivating factors for free market capitalism.

Occupy Austin “This movement is about Democracy”

I returned to #OccupyAustin about dusk. The occupiers had grown in number to over 1,000 and the atmosphere was festive. The crowd skewed young but was at least as diverse as the city itself. There were impromptu sing-a-longs, home made signs and lots of folks who were clearly there out of curiosity.

I walked into City Hall which happen to have a council meeting in session discussing the possibility of moving May city elections to November.  Having worked as an election administrator for both the 2006 and 2008 elections I can assure moving elections to November amounts to increasing turnout. The city is also relieved of funding an additional election in the spring. Although this is a separate matter it deals directly with democracy and participation, two things that were going on in mass just outside. After speaking to one of the on-duty officers about his long day we walked to The Gingerman right up the street. We discussed what good if any could come from this gathering and all agreed supporting local business was a good way to “recycle our wealth”.  We would start with bars and breweries and dub it #occupintAustin. After a Peacemaker and a Rahr Gravel I left and headed back to City Hall.

At that point it was 11pm. I walked up to Univision doing an interview with a lady holding a POW MIA flag. The crowd had thinned some but the remaining occupiers looked as fresh and enthusiastic as I left them. I heard conflicting reports on whether the protests actually had to conclude by a certain hour but according to the chatters on their live feed they plan to be there all night. I will make my best attempt to go to City Hall and watch the march on Bank of America. There they plan to ask customers to leave BoA and join a local credit union. Should be interesting but I don’t think BoA is in the business of novel ideas. I suspect by now they’re aware of the plan and will have security or APD on hand to remove any trespassers. Its worth noting that unlike most protests I have attended this one felt it necessary to appear “pro” law enforcement. It is in at least part a branding effort but I saw multiple conversations between occupiers and officers, many speakers thanked them for being there and one read, “APD are the 99%”.

If you are interested in how to participate the General Assembly has posted list of items they need and how they can be donated. If you would like to learn more about what the General Assembly does you can read their minutes from today. The operations are growing increasingly complex and demanding and it appears to all be done by volunteers. There is a lot that can be said about these people but lazy is not one of them.

Slideshow of today.

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Why we tax the rich- for dummies

Why should we tax the rich? Its a question that reminds me of a childhood argument I had with my parents every time they bought me a new pair of shoes. I wanted the latest (and most expensive) Nike tennis so they would always remind me of how much it cost to make them, how much some poor kid got paid and how much us suckers were willing to pay.  My elementary response was, “would those kids even have a job if it weren’t for Nike?” Unfortunately at this point I can see any of the GOP candidates (with minor exception) respond the same way.  Even as a child I could see the Conservative and Republican ideological brands were shinier but it was years before I considered the substance inside the slick packaging. Where did all that money go, were these kids really being treated fairly, did my purchase really affect the price and does it all really even matter anyway? The answer is yes it does matter, because we have entered a world where regardless of your ideology or the corporate tax rate the American standard of living can not be realized for the same wages companies can pay workers overseas. This is my anecdote for the situation that has led to shrieks of ‘class warfare’ on all sides and the latest brewing economic movement to “#OccupyWallStreet“.  It comes down to the simple fact that if folks can’t feed there families and afford basics like transportation, education and insurance after working 40hrs a week there will be more working class uprisings. When working and middle-class people have jobs they don’t have time to riot, but give them 6 months of watching their family suffer and you bet they will take to the streets.
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Class Warfare: Do we have to pick sides?

We are hearing a lot about “job creators” but what about “wealth creators”? Those are the many hands that perform the jobs and create the wealth that gets funneled to the top and fails to trickle down. It isn’t about over-taxation, its about labor costs and the American middle-class standard of living is just too high for the bottom line. There are short term solutions to the economic recession like rebuilding infrastructure; but the foundation of our new economy’s longterm growth will be small business. They are the most likely to hire during growth, less likely to layoff employees without exhausting all other options and they provide character and tradition to communities.

Continue reading “Class Warfare: Do we have to pick sides?”

State Department holds hearing on Keystone XL Pipeline but is Anyone Listening?

Major publications coast to coast are discussing the implications of the Keystone tarsands pipeline that will dead-end in Southeast Texas. Despite the national fervor the State Department will only hold hearings along the proposed route.  Texans have been granted 2 opportunities voice concerns, one in Austin and the other in Port Arthur. I am working alongside the Sierra Club and internationally recognized environmentalist Hilton Kelly to raise awareness of the health and economic impact the contents of this pipeline will have.  The community of Port Arthur has a long history with industry (including the incineration of VX nerve gas) and recently been plagued with high unemployment. Residents in this area are no strangers to harsh chemical smells or pipelines and from the lack of local dialogue, for or against the pipeline, it would seem they are blissfully unaware of whats happening right under their noses.

Continue reading “State Department holds hearing on Keystone XL Pipeline but is Anyone Listening?”

Not so smooth…like Keystone XL

“It’s not the easiest thing on Earth for law-abiding folk to come to risk arrest,” –Bill McKibben Environmentalist/protest organizer

Born and raised in Southeast Texas I can attest that a new pipeline is hardly worthy of a headline. This is different, and even with a notable amount of national media attention it is still proving difficult to get the message across. I started on this campaign over a year ago when the State Dept. began holding hearings along the route of the pipeline. At the time several significant issues were brought to their attention including; strip mining in Alberta, chemical leaks to downstream communities, the proposed route’s passage over the Ogallala aquifer, the discrepancies between proposed job creation numbers and ultimately the impact on citizens living near refining sites like Port Arthur.
Continue reading “Not so smooth…like Keystone XL”

That First Step – Citizens REunited

I’ve been wanting to restart my blog again for a while now. Many factors have led to my procrastination not excluding the hours berating pundits on cable news.

I think my point of view is fair and balanced but not just because I say it is. I do my best to site my sources but the biggest obstacle in writing more is the research involved. I will try and keep my posts focused and short.

My main motivation for writing is the void of reasonable voices in popular media. I hear them among friends and in public so I know they are out there. I see ideological bubbles forming even though American’s have more access to information than any other point in history. Today our ability to seek out content that merely reinforces our own prejudices and preconceived notions is disturbing. Its a trend that goes past our instincts to group ourselves but is in fact part of the algorithms used by Google and Facebook to “suggest” content to you. Ultimately this limits choice (aka freedom) and is largely unrepresentative of the diversity of ideas in the market place.

I think buzz words are important and as long as Democrats, liberals, progressives et. al. choose policy explanations over soundbites, Republicans’ message will continue to be effective. As a friend said, if we are explaining we are losing. We must find a constructive way to fight the scorched earth policy towards institutions that represent human progress and personify “we the people”. Democrats will never win as the “anti-government” party and until they remind folks of what good government has done you can bet it all on red.

I’m proud of the fact that I frequently come to agreeable solutions with conservatives because we are generally given false choices that force us to take opposing sides on non-issues.  Non-compromising liberals and conservatives feed the gridlock and prevent government from actually being an aset to the people.

Our challenge now is to define the role of government and cut out the rest. The real tyrant we face is corporate money in our elections. Corporations are not immoral but they are amoral and do not represent real human interest. The government has been a defenseless whipping boy in our recent political discussions regarding “class warfare”.

The Supreme Court was supremely wrong in Citizens United when they decided to treat companies like people. Just know when you hear its beneficiaries say “private sector” they really mean “big business” and when they say “government” they really mean “the people”. So start listening closely because this is an all out battle for the hearts, minds and the soul of our nation.

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