Tag Archives: Government

How to Survive a Plague

There is a new documentary making the festival circuit called “How to Survive a Plague.”

It’s about the early days of ACT UP and people standing up to government inaction in the early days of the AIDS Crisis.  I’m old enough to remember those scary days of the 1980’s when young men were dying and the government was not taking any action to find out why or how to stop it.

Many people are alive today because of these brave activist of ACT UP.  They made the government, the health care industry and the pharmaceutical industry pay attention.  They were mad as hell and didn’t take it any more….

Where is that energy today?  Cynicism and acceptance of the status quo are way too prevalent now….

Here is the trailer.  I can’t wait to see this….

And here is a link to the film’s website:  http://surviveaplague.com

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Big Banks Extracting Fees On Unemployment Benefits

These big banks are just plain evil….

I was in BB&T last week and saw a sign saying they would charge either $8 or $12 to cash a check drawn on their bank for people without an account of their own.  That should be illegal.

And now I see this?

Evil… just plain evil.

If banks are going to administer Government benefits, they should be required, by contract, not to charge the people receiving the benefits.  They still make money from merchants when debit/credit cards are used and that’s fine.  It’s soaking the beneficiaries, who can least afford it, that is just plain wrong….

Evil…just plain evil.

I don’t know why anyone deals with these banks who doesn’t have to do so.  The rest of us should be moving our money out to Credit Unions or, at the very least, local community banks….

Out of work and living on a $189-a-week unemployment check, Rob Linville needs to watch every penny. Lately, he has been watching too many pennies disappear into the coffers of the bank that administers his unemployment check via a prepaid debit card.

The state of Oregon, where Linville lives, deposits his weekly benefits on a U.S. Bank prepaid debit card. The bank allows him to make four withdrawals per month free of charge. After that, he must pay $1.50 for each visit to the ATM and $3 to see a teller. Managing his basic expenses, including rent, bus fare and groceries, typically requires more than four withdrawals, he says. Unexpected needs — Linville recently bought a sport coat for $20 to prepare for a job interview — entail more. He’s afraid to withdraw his full benefits in one shot, knowing that the bank could sock him with a $17.50 overdraft fee if he exceeds his balance. So he pulls out small amounts of cash as he needs it, incurring about $15 in fees in the last two months he says.

“I’m so broke,” Linville said, his voice expressing resignation that this is simply how the world works. “But I don’t really have any other options.”

Across the nation, people receiving a range of state-furnished benefits — from unemployment insurance and food stamps to cash assistance for poor families — are facing similar options and reaching the same conclusion. In 41 states major banks and financial firms have secured contracts to provide access to public benefits via prepaid debit cards. And banks are increasingly extracting hefty cuts of these funds through an assortment of small fees. U.S. Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and other institutions hold contracts to distribute these benefits on prepaid debit cards.

via Banks Extract Fees On Unemployment Benefits.

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Tuning Out the Democrats

There is a long and interesting article by pollster Stanley Greenberg in the New York Times today that I wish everyone would read.  It attempts to explain why people support the agenda of the Democratic Party, but don’t vote for them…

It’s enlightening and very scary…

The premise is basically that people don’t trust the Dems to actually do anything and they think government is too corrupted to work anyway…

Very scary stuff….

Here is a brief excerpt.  Please click the link for the entire article:

 

Oddly, many voters prefer the policies of Democrats to the policies of Republicans. They just don’t trust the Democrats to carry out those promises.

When we conducted our election-night national survey after last year’s Republican sweep, voters strongly chose new investment over a new national austerity. They thought Democrats were more likely to champion the middle class. And as has become clear in the months since, the public does not share conservatives’ views on rejecting tax cuts and cutting retirement programs. Numerous recent polls have shown that the public sides with the president and Democrats on raising taxes to get to a balanced budget.

But in smaller, more probing focus groups, voters show they are fairly cynical about Democratic politicians’ stands. They tune out the politicians’ fine speeches and plans and express sentiments like these: “It’s just words.” “There’s just such a control of government by the wealthy that whatever happens, it’s not working for all the people; it’s working for a few of the people.” “We don’t have a representative government anymore.”

This distrust of government and politicians is unfolding as a full-blown crisis of legitimacy sidelines Democrats and liberalism. Just a quarter of the country is optimistic about our system of government — the lowest since polls by ABC and others began asking this question in 1974. But a crisis of government legitimacy is a crisis of liberalism. It doesn’t hurt Republicans. If government is seen as useless, what is the point of electing Democrats who aim to use government to advance some public end?

In earlier periods, confidence in the economy and rising personal incomes put limits on voter discontent. Today, a dispiriting economy combined with a well-developed critique of government leaves government not just distrusted but illegitimate.

via Tuning Out the Democrats – NYTimes.com.

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Apple now has more cash than the U.S. government – CNN.com

Good for Apple-one of my favorite companies that makes many of my favorite products.

Bad for the U.S Government.  And kind of embarrassing….

From CNN:

Maybe the cash-strapped U.S. government should start selling iPads.

According to the latest statement from the U.S. Treasury, the government had an operating cash balance Wednesday of $73.8 billion. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s less than what Steve Jobs has lying around.

Tech juggernaut Apple had a whopping $76.2 billion in cash and marketable securities at the end of June, according to its last earnings report. Unlike the U.S. government, which is scrambling to avoid defaulting on its debt, Apple takes in more money than it spends.

This symbolic feat — the world’s most highly valued tech company surpassing the fiscal strength of the world’s most powerful nation — is just the latest pinnacle for Apple, which has been on an unprecedented roll.

U.S. debt: How did we get here?

Its Macs, iPhones and iPads remain hot sellers, its stock has surged past $400 a share and Apple just became the world’s largest smartphone vendor by volume.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what Apple might buy with its piles of cash — Facebook and Sony being two of the more high-profile examples — but the company doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to make a move.

“We don’t let the cash burn a hole in the pocket or make stupid acquisitions,” CEO Jobs said last fall. “We’d like to continue to keep our powder dry because we think there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future.”

Offering Uncle Sam a short-term loan is probably not one of them.

via Apple now has more cash than the U.S. government – CNN.com.

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The Bin Laden Decade

Great article from Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times is worth reading in its entirety.

I especially like his assertion that governments only govern based on either Fear or Trust.

The Arab world is losing it’s fear of government and we have lost our trust in government.

That makes for a scary and complicated time ahead….

Here is a brief excerpt from the middle of the column:

In America, President George W. Bush used the post-9/11 economic dip to push through a second tax cut we could not afford. He followed that with a Medicare prescription drug entitlement we cannot afford and started two wars in the wake of 9/11 without raising taxes to pay for them — all at a time when we should have been saving money in anticipation of the baby boomers’ imminent retirement. As such, our nation’s fiscal hole is deeper than ever and Republicans and Democrats — rather than coming together and generating the political authority needed for us to take our castor oil to compensate for our binge — are just demonizing one another.

As the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi points out, governance is based on authority “that is generated in one of two ways — by trust or by fear. Both of those sources of authority are disintegrating right now.” The Arab leaders governed by fear, and their people are not afraid anymore. And the Western democracies governed by generating trust, but their societies today are more splintered than ever.

via The Bin Laden Decade – NYTimes.com.

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The Unwisdom of Elites

Brilliant article from Nobel Prize Winning Economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times….

I put all his credentials out so, hopefully, people will pay attention…

I’m posting as much as I can, here, with a link to the full column…

The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?

Well, what I’ve been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it’s mostly the public’s fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness.

So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn’t just self-serving, it’s dead wrong.

The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.

Let me focus mainly on what happened in the United States, then say a few words about Europe.

These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. That focus in itself represents distorted priorities, since our immediate concern should be job creation. But suppose we restrict ourselves to talking about the deficit, and ask: What happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000?

The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.

So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn’t the man in the street.

President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party’s ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand — and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority.

Similarly, Mr. Bush chose to invade Iraq because that was something he and his advisers wanted to do, not because Americans were clamoring for war against a regime that had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, it took a highly deceptive sales campaign to get Americans to support the invasion, and even so, voters were never as solidly behind the war as America’s political and pundit elite.

Finally, the Great Recession was brought on by a runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation. And who was responsible for that deregulation? Powerful people in Washington with close ties to the financial industry, that’s who. Let me give a particular shout-out to Alan Greenspan, who played a crucial role both in financial deregulation and in the passage of the Bush tax cuts — and who is now, of course, among those hectoring us about the deficit.

via The Unwisdom of Elites – NYTimes.com.

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After Osama bin Laden’s Death, An End to ‘Bad Guys’ | The Nation

Nice to see other folks thinking along the same lines as my personal thoughts in my earlier post about how bin Laden changed us….

I do hope we can all grow up now that the boogie man is dead….

From The Nation:

We can use the occasion of bin Laden’s death to grasp back for the moment when the world seemed simple, or we can turn away from that impulse. We can say that with his death, we return to the world as our adult eyes see it, shot through with suffering and complexity. We can feel compassion for the thousands of innocents who died by bin Laden’s hand as well as our own, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in places like Bagram and Baghdad. We can remember that just because there is evil in the world that we are fighting—and bin Laden was a mass murderer and war criminal—that does not mean we are purely righteous. We can reject relativism and still embrace nuance. We can have the courage to speak and act like adults, to put away childish things, to once and for all banish the bad guys from our nightmares.

via After Osama bin Laden’s Death, An End to ‘Bad Guys’ | The Nation.

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The Triangle Shirt Waist Company Fire: 100 Years Ago This Week

March 25th is the 100th Anniversary of one of the saddest events in U.S. labor history, the Triangle Shirt Waist Company Fire.  Some say this tragedy had the biggest impact on New York of any event until 9/11.

This story has always resonated with me.  It’s so said that all these young women, mostly recent immigrants, died so tragically.  Mainly, because the doors were locked and they couldn’t escape down the stairs.  Many jumped to their death.

This event led to many changes in public safety and labor laws.  It’s a reminder that laws and regulations are necessary.

Unfortunately, it always seems to take a tragedy to drive change in America…

This article in today’s New York Times shows how one woman is trying to keep the memory alive:

“I GREW up with this story, and I’ve always wanted to do something about it,” Ruth Sergel said. “It’s like a black hole in your heart.”

In 2004, Ms. Sergel started doing something about the story she grew up with: the Triangle Waist Company fire, which killed 146 garment workers in 1911, almost all of them Jewish and Italian immigrants. She had just read a book about the fire, to distract herself from worrying about the premiere of a short film she had directed at the the Tribeca Film Festival.

At the end of the book, “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America,” was a list of names and addresses of the victims, and Ms. Sergel was moved to discover that many had lived within blocks of her apartment on East Third Street. Eager to do something about the story that had created a black hole in her heart, she hit upon what she called “the schmaltziest idea.”

On March 25, the anniversary of the fire, she and a few dozen friends put her idea into action: they divided up the names and addresses, and fanned out across the Lower East Side, the East Village and Little Italy, armed with sidewalk chalk. In front of each building where a victim had lived, they chalked a name, age and cause of death — in white, green, pink and purple, often with drawings of flowers, tombstones or a triangle. They chalked, “Pauline Horowitz, Age 19, Lived at 58 St. Marks Pl., Died March 25, 1911, Triangle Factory Fire.” And “Albina Caruso, Age 20, Lived at 21 Bowery, Died March 25, 1911, Triangle Factory Fire.”

That first year, they chalked 140 names, plus the word “unidentified” six times, in front of the old factory building, just east of Washington Square.

“After you chalk one or two names, something starts to happen,” said Ms. Sergel, 48, an artist who cobbles a living from grant to grant. “Chalking helps reveal a hidden geography of the city. If there are two victims across the street from each other, you wonder, ‘Did they walk to work together? Did their families console each other?’ The whole rest of the year you associate those buildings with that person.”

via In a Tragedy, A Mission To Remember – NYTimes.com.

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Robert Reich: The Republican Shakedown

Absolutely brilliant, honest and true article from Robert Reich over at the Huffington Post…

Please click the link at the bottom and read the whole thing…

It’s worth it…

The truth is that while the proximate cause of America’s economic plunge was Wall Street’s excesses leading up to the crash of 2008, its underlying cause — and the reason the economy continues to be lousy for most Americans — is so much income and wealth have been going to the very top that the vast majority no longer has the purchasing power to lift the economy out of its doldrums. American’s aren’t buying cars (they bought 17 million new cars in 2005, just 12 million last year). They’re not buying homes (7.5 million in 2005, 4.6 million last year). They’re not going to the malls (high-end retailers are booming but Wal-Mart’s sales are down).

Only the richest 5 percent of Americans are back in the stores because their stock portfolios have soared. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has doubled from its crisis low. Wall Street pay is up to record levels. Total compensation and benefits at the 25 major Wall St firms had been $130 billion in 2007, before the crash; now it’s close to $140 billion.

But a strong recovery can’t be built on the purchases of the richest 5 percent.

The truth is if the super-rich paid their fair share of taxes, government wouldn’t be broke. If Governor Scott Walker hadn’t handed out tax breaks to corporations and the well-off, Wisconsin wouldn’t be in a budget crisis. If Washington hadn’t extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich, eviscerated the estate tax, and created loopholes for private-equity and hedge-fund managers, the federal budget wouldn’t look nearly as bad.

And if America had higher marginal tax rates and more tax brackets at the top — for those raking in $1 million, $5 million, $15 million a year — the budget would look even better. We wouldn’t be firing teachers or slashing Medicaid or hurting the most vulnerable members of our society. We wouldn’t be in a tizzy over Social Security. We’d slow the rise in health care costs but we wouldn’t cut Medicare. We’d cut defense spending and lop off subsidies to giant agribusinesses but we wouldn’t view the government as our national nemesis.

The final truth is as income and wealth have risen to the top, so has political power. The reason all of this is proving so difficult to get across is the super-rich, such as the Koch brothers, have been using their billions to corrupt politics, hoodwink the public, and enlarge and entrench their outsized fortunes. They’re bankrolling Republicans who are mounting showdowns and threatening shutdowns, and who want the public to believe government spending is the problem.

They are behind the Republican shakedown.

These are the truths that Democrats must start telling, and soon. Otherwise the Republican shakedown may well succeed.

via Robert Reich: The Republican Shakedown.

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Capitalism for the Long Term – Harvard Business Review

Interesting article from the Harvard Business Review…

I think it’s a little optimistic to think Business and Capitalism will reform themselves…

His suggestions seem to be to go back to the way we were…

What are the odds of that happening without Governmental reform and public outrage?

Not likely to happen as long as the Corporations own the Government….

Why reform when you can rig the system to your benefit?

In an ongoing effort that started 18 months ago, I’ve met with more than 400 business and government leaders across the globe. Those conversations have reinforced my strong sense that, despite a certain amount of frustration on each side, the two groups share the belief that capitalism has been and can continue to be the greatest engine of prosperity ever devised—and that we will need it to be at the top of its job-creating, wealth-generating game in the years to come. At the same time, there is growing concern that if the fundamental issues revealed in the crisis remain unaddressed and the system fails again, the social contract between the capitalist system and the citizenry may truly rupture, with unpredictable but severely damaging results.

Most important, the dialogue has clarified for me the nature of the deep reform that I believe business must lead—nothing less than a shift from what I call quarterly capitalism to what might be referred to as long-term capitalism. (For a rough definition of “long term,” think of the time required to invest in and build a profitable new business, which McKinsey research suggests is at least five to seven years.) This shift is not just about persistently thinking and acting with a next-generation view—although that’s a key part of it. It’s about rewiring the fundamental ways we govern, manage, and lead corporations. It’s also about changing how we view business’s value and its role in society.

There are three essential elements of the shift. First, business and finance must jettison their short-term orientation and revamp incentives and structures in order to focus their organizations on the long term. Second, executives must infuse their organizations with the perspective that serving the interests of all major stakeholders—employees, suppliers, customers, creditors, communities, the environment—is not at odds with the goal of maximizing corporate value; on the contrary, it’s essential to achieving that goal. Third, public companies must cure the ills stemming from dispersed and disengaged ownership by bolstering boards’ ability to govern like owners.

via Capitalism for the Long Term – Harvard Business Review.

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