Archive | Class War

Silent Bob Vs. Southwest

You may have already heard that “Clerks” director Kevin Smith was thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight yesterday for being too fat – after he was buckled in.

So take the mistreatment of a geek cult hero, add his Twitter feed with over a million and half followers (ThatKevinSmith), and you have a well-deserved public relations nightmare. In a stunning display of the power of new media vs. old, Kevin (who’s famous for his colorful language on Twitter) is not holding back on this one. He’s got up a podcast, too:

Director Kevin Smith was ejected from a plane after being deemed “too fat to fly,” he says on his Twitter account.

After delivering a speech in San Francisco, he boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to Burbank and was seated on the plane but then was thrown off the flight Saturday evening. The director of Clerks and other movies, who is also known for playing the movie character Silent Bob in many films, fired off a round of Twitter messages aimed at Southwest. Among them, “Fair warning folks: If you look like me, you may be ejected from Southwest Air.” A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines wrote an apology on the company’s Twitter account. The message, from an unnamed representative, says “Hey Kevin! I’m so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right.”

Have any of you ever had a similar experience?

Who Hacked This Poll?

Of course Wall Street’s most powerful company wouldn’t stoop to rigging an online poll, right? In fact, one of their spinners said the bank had “just received this information and is investigating fully”. Yeah, I think they’re going to join O.J. Simpson in looking for the perpetrators!

Around 3:41 pm yesterday, the technical team watching the vote counter on a grass root campaign’s website noticed that the “no” votes increased dramatically.

A few days ago robinhoodtax.com, asked the public to vote on a “tiny” tax on bankers that would donate no more than .05% of each banking transaction to the poor.

They say it would raise more than $100 billion pounds.

Robin Hood’s security team said that it traced the erroneous votes to two computers, one of which is allegedly registered to Goldman, according to The Telegraph.

Deficit Reduction Is Class War

This is a really good post on the deficit wars – and the myth of economic “recovery.” [via Corrente]

For about 20 years now, I’ve been warning people that the continuing rise in home values was unsustainable – and bad for the economy. I can’t stress this enough: Shelter is shelter, and not an investment. Speculating in residential real estate on the basis of constantly-increasing equity is a relatively recent development that drives a lot of bad economic and social results. (Don’t even get me started on what a very bad idea it is to use property taxes to fund school systems.)

Using houses as ATM distorted many things in the economy, not the least of which was the parallel stagnation in wages. Think about this: since the 70s, we’ve seen a steady rise in women working outside the home, a rise in property values, and a monstrous increase in personal debt.

Yet wages never kept pace with any of that. (In fact, those of us who still have jobs are now working harder for less money than we earned in the 1970s.) But with a working spouse bringing in additional income and home equity loans, we could convince ourselves that increasing equity was the same as earning more.

It also kept things calm on the domestic political front, because we bought the illusion that the economy was rewarding them. (Which is one of the reasons why otherwise conservative Republicans were always so supportive of women going to work. It helped keep wages low.)

Even though I see great amounts of psychic pain in the transition, I believe that deflated housing prices are an ultimate good. Housing simply shouldn’t cost this much when we aren’t earning enough to pay for them; we shouldn’t have to take out equity loans to get by.

Which is why I’d recommend that you read Jesse’s entire article. He points out that the bulk of Obama’s bailout funds and the thrust of his policies is not to bail out underwater mortgages for drowning homeowners, but to reinflate the value of the bad housing assets.

In other words, to continue the class war on behalf of the bankers.

…in view of the rising and well-subsidized efforts of Harold Ford and his fellow Corporate Democrats, the actual “bipartisan” aim seems to be to provide political cover for cutting spending on labor and on social services. Obama already has sent up trial balloons about needing to address the Social Security and Medicare deficits, as if they should not be financed out of the general budget by taxpayers including the higher brackets (presently exempted from FICA paycheck withholding).

Traditionally, running deficits is supposed to help pull economies out of recession. But today, spending money on public services is deemed “bad,” because it may be “inflationary” – that is, threatening to raise wages. Talk of cutting deficits thus is class-war talk – on behalf of the FIRE sector.

The economy needs deficit spending to avoid unemployment and poverty, to increase social spending to deal with the present economic shrinkage, and to maintain their capital infrastructure. The federal government also needs to increase revenue sharing with states forced to slash their budgets in response to falling tax revenue and rising unemployment insurance.

But the deficits that the Bush-Obama administration have run are nothing like the familiar old Keynesian-style deficits to help the economy recover. Running up public debt to pay Wall Street in the hope that much of this credit will be lent out to inflate asset prices is deemed good. This belief will form the context for Wednesday’s State of the Union speech. So we are brought back to the idea of economic recovery and just what is to be recovered.

Financial lobbyists are hoping to get the government to fill the gap in domestic demand below full-employment levels by providing bank credit. When governments spend money to help increase economic activity, this does not help the banks sell more interest bearing debt. Wall Street’s golden age occurred under Bill Clinton, whose budget surplus was more than offset by an explosion of commercial bank lending.

The pro-financial mass media reiterate that deficits are inflationary and bankrupt economies. The reality is that Keynesian-style deficits raise wage levels relative to the price of property (the cost of obtaining housing, and of buying stocks and bonds to yield a retirement income). The aim of running a “Wall Street deficit” is just the reverse: It is to re-inflate property prices relative to wages.

Go read the whole thing.

Go Sherrod

Down With Tyranny:

There is a small group of progressive Democrats– very small– who are actually independent of Wall Street. You may have noticed that last week Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a bill targeting outrageous bonuses of banksters who are getting it out of TARP money.

Yesterday Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced an even more stringent bill that targets any bonus over $25,000-– where the Boxer-Webb bill goes after anything over $400,000. I’m with Sherrod on this one. He says he wants to use the proceeds to help small businesses expand and hire new employees. In a talk about how Wall Street benefited from the infusion of taxpayer dollars via TARP, he explained why he thinks Main Street needs to be helped along now and how this is a way to get that started. “It’s time,” he said, “for Wall Street to return the favor to Main Street. While big banks have rebounded thanks to the help of American taxpayers, small businesses are still struggling. If a big firm that received taxpayer help is now paying out massive bonuses, they should be able to help American small businesses expand operations and hire new workers. Small business growth will create jobs and get our economy back on track.”

Mole Man

I went to the dermatologist’s office last night to have another abnormal mole removed.

“Is there any way we can remove a lot of these at once?” I asked him.

“The insurance company won’t pay for more than one at a time,” he said.

I thought that was bizarre. “Why?”

“It loses the deterrent effect.”

“You mean, they don’t want me actually using the insurance. They want me to die,” I said.

He just smiled and said nothing. Oy.

Six down, six to go, $50 a pop. I spend more time in his office than I do at home.

The Corporate-Influenced Media

Great article in The Nation by Sebastian Jones. Send it to those people you know who still believe TV news is “fair and balanced”:

President Obama spent most of December 4 touring Allentown, Pennsylvania, meeting with local workers and discussing the economic crisis. A few hours later, the state’s former governor, Tom Ridge, was on MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews, offering up his own recovery plan. There were “modest things” the White House might try, like cutting taxes or opening up credit for small businesses, but the real answer was for the president to “take his green agenda and blow it out of the box.” The first step, Ridge explained, was to “create nuclear power plants.” Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an “innovation setter” that would “create jobs, create exports.”

As Ridge counseled the administration to “put that package together,” he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren’t told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power company. As of March 2009, he also held an estimated $248,299 in Exelon stock, according to SEC filings.

Moments earlier, retired general and “NBC Military Analyst” Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional “three- to ten-year effort” and “a lot of money.” Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. The first year is locked in at $644 million, but the additional four options are subject to renewal, contingent on military needs and political realities.

In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC. The question is, was this an isolated oversight or business as usual? Evidence points to the latter. In 2003 The Nation exposed McCaffrey’s financial ties to military contractors he had promoted on-air on several cable networks; in 2008 David Barstow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the New York Times about the Pentagon’s use of former military officers–many lobbying or consulting for military contractors–to get their talking points on television in exchange for access to decision-makers; and in 2009 bloggers uncovered how ex-Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe had guest-hosted Countdown With Keith Olbermann while working at a large PR firm specializing in “strategies for managing corporate reputation.”

These incidents represent only a fraction of the covert corporate influence peddling on cable news, a four-month investigation by The Nation has found. Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials–people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests–have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens–and in some cases hundreds–of appearances.

In Clover

New HCAN study:

The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been in private health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:

* The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.
o Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
* The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.
o Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.
o All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.
* The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.

Endorsement Deal

Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

Being nice to the biggest banks will not save the midterm elections for the Democrats.  The banks’ campaign contributions will flow increasingly to the Republicans and against any Democrats (and there are precious few) who have fought for real reform.

The president’s only political chance is to take on the too big to fail banks directly and clearly.  He needs to explain where they came from (answer: the Reagan Revolution, gone wrong), how the problem became much worse during the last administration, and how – in credible detail – he will end their reign.

What we have now is not a free market.  It is rather one of the most complete (and awful) instances ever of savvy businessmen capturing a state and the minds of the people who run it.  Is this really what the president seeks to endorse?

The Big Lie of the Life of the Mind

Very interesting take on the class structure of graduate school, via AZSpot:

One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.

But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

Again and again, the people who wrote to me said things like “Nobody told me” and “Now what do I do?” “Everybody keeps saying my doctorate gives me all kinds of transferable skills, but I can’t get a second interview, even outside of academe.” “What’s wrong with me?”

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.

Everyone has told her that “there are always places for good people in academe.” She begins to obsess about the possibility of some kind of fatal personal shortcoming. She goes through multiple mock interviews, and takes business classes, learning to present herself for nonacademic positions. But again and again, she is passed over in favor of undergraduates who are no different from people she has taught for years. Maybe, she wonders, there’s something about me that makes me unfit for any kind of job.

This goes on for years: sleepless nights, anxiety, escalating and increasingly paralyzing self-doubt, and a host of stress-induced ailments. She has even removed the Ph.D. from her résumé, with some pain, but she lives in dread that interviewers will ask what she has been doing for the last 12 years. (All her old friends are well established by now, some with families, some with what seem to be high-powered careers. She lives in a tiny apartment and struggles to pay off her student loans.) What’s left now but entry-level clerical work with her immediate supervisor just three years out of high school?

She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged. Her students have no idea that she is a prisoner of the graduate-school poverty trap. The consolations of teaching are fewer than she ever imagined.

Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.

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