Friday, November 2, 2012

Power to the Powerless

Much to the chagrin of the candidates and their spinmeisters, climate change and income disparity have reared their ugly heads to become defacto issues in the waning days of Eternal Presidential Campaign 2012. Superstorm Sandy has wedged out the wedge issues. Big Bird has flown the coop.

Even corporate media giants like CNN are noticing the inequality. Side-by-side images of desperately hungry people in Brooklyn sifting through garbage in search for food, and VIPs bemoaning the closing of the Dumpling Bar at JP Morgan Chase would never have been possible without the cooperation of Superstorm Sandy.

Poverty was once the word that could not be spoken, especially during political campaigns. Not any more. The shame of the richest nation in the world is hung out for all the world to see. New York City boasts the most glaring income inequality in the entire country. Its arrogant mayor is our 10th richest plutocrat, with a net worth of $25 billion. But more than a fifth of his subjects (you can't really call them constituents) fall below the national poverty line.

It's easy for Michael Bloomberg to brag about the resilience of his fair city in the face of the storm, because he doesn't have to look at the people who are bearing the real brunt. He triumphantly presided over the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday. He thumbed his nose at Sandy by insisting that the annual Marathon will be run this Sunday.* But thanks to the magic of TV, the rest of America now bears witness to  the grinding existence of ordinary New Yorkers who must run the equivalent of a city marathon every single day just to earn a subsistence wage. According to the Pratt Center for Community Development,
We found great disparities in transportation access between higher-income, professional workers and low-wage manual and service workers. High housing costs mean that most low-wage workers live in areas outside the city's subway-rich core. Those workers also must travel to work sites dispersed widely around the city and region. This leaves the lowest-paid workers with the longest commutes to work, and limits the geographic range of job opportunities for residents of high-unemployment communities.
Three-quarters of a million New Yorkers travel more than one hour each way to work, and two-thirds of them earn less than $35,000 a year. By contrast, just 6 percent of these extreme commuters earn more than $75,000 a year. Black New Yorkers have the longest commute times, 25 percent longer than white commuters; Hispanic commuters have rides 12 percent longer.
Meanwhile, Wall Street plutocrats are telling harrowing tales of their own. One investment banker had to find his way to his wine cellar in the dark to scarf down a $1000-dollar bottle of wine before it went bad when the temperature controls failed. The CEO of Morgan Stanley had to hoof it three miles from his corporate suite to his domestic suite. Local news coverage of the storm was interrupted with a breathless announcement from Lexus to luxury car owners whose rides were damaged by flooding. A concierge service will pick you up and take you wherever you want to go while you're waiting for a replacement vehicle.

Jason Sheftell, who covers the luxury real estate beat for the Daily News, is totally blaming utility giant Con Ed -- not the hurricane -- for disrupting the lifestyle to which he is accustomed. His piece epitomizes the high-end whining of the entitled:
Con Edison has temporarily rendered a large portion of the greatest city on planet Earth irrelevant. They are treating us like we’re some kind of small town in Connecticut. In the sticks, power is an afterthought after 10 p.m. New York is the city that never sleeps.... Power is our lifeblood. It is our backbone. Without it, we are nothing. One day, acceptable. Two days, fine. Five days, in downtown New York, an egregious error where someone, somebody, some power company, must be accountable. No more excuses.
It is to the credit of some would-be Marathoners that they are forgoing the Bloomberg staged event and volunteering on hard-hit Staten Island instead. Despite the televised orgy of mutual back slapping and self-congratulations by swarms of political candidates, the government response is not all that it's been cracked up to be. People are stranded, people are hungry, people are cold, and people are getting mighty pissed off. Brooklynites waited in line for hours for National Guard handouts of water and MREs (meals ready to eat) The indy newspaper Gothamist has coined a new phrase for the forgotten people and where they live: The Powerless Zone. The lack of electricity is obvious; the lack of political power, not so much.

But  guess what? Occupy Wall Street, that social movement that the PTBs had either written off or co-opted into President Obama's re-election bid, is making a comeback. They're setting up aid camps in the Powerless Zones, even creating their own electricity with those exercise bike generators used in the Zuccotti Park encampment. Information on how to help can be found here.

Mayor Shrillionaire wouldn't dare send his paramilitary police army to bust heads at the new humanitarian Occupy encampments. Or would he?

* Update 5:30 p.m. Sanity prevailed, and the race has been cancelled.


Jim said...

It's all about appearances. If the situation in greater NYC were disastrous, surely there'd be no NYC Marathon. There will be a marathon. Therefore.... You can bet your last piece of moldy bread the Marathon will get headline coverage this weekend -- Oh, Brave New York! -- while the unfed, water-less, powerless multitudes won't even get 15 seconds on the split screen.

Across the way we saw the miracle of political cooperation between Christie -- who could well afford to fast for a few months -- and Obama. Gee, ain't it swell how hard times bring us together?

No bread, but plenty of circuses.

James F Traynor said...

When I was a young man I was poor, but there were opportunities and real life choices - not nearly so much now. And no one seems to notice. I chose, in the end, to pursue my interest in the life sciences although I would have done a hell of a lot better financially pursuing a trade, engineering or a business career. But that never bothered me or my wife; we both chose directions that dismayed our respective families. Those would be much more risky decisions for young people today. And no one seems to notice, really notice except those in the Occupy movement.

Denis Neville said...

The bad news is that things will have to get worse, the desperation more keenly felt, if populist outcomes are ever to trump ideology and money. The “good” news is that under our plutocracy’s disaster capitalism things will indeed get a lot worse.

One of our two major political parties, the Republican Party, is not concerned with facts, truth, or reality.

Close to half the nation endorses them.

The other party, the Democratic Party, has betrayed its traditional ideals and wedded itself to the plutocracy.

Close to half the nation supports them.

How are we, as individuals, as a society, ever going to address these institutional failures and the overwhelming domestic and global issues that face us?

The Occupy movement was a terrific first act. But where is the second act?

“A water snake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from side to side; and it swam the length of the pool and came to the legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shallows. A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically.” - John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Jim said...

Intellectual or service careers are deprecated today. Obama is disparaged for working as a community organizer, while Romney is praised for his business "success," which consisted mainly of disemboweling businesses that employed people to make things.

I recently returned to basic cable, and find several programs celebrating people who make money off others' misfortune. Repossessing cars and buying storage-locker contents are two that come to mind.

Being successful today means being a good predator, not a builder or helper. It's not enough to pigeonhole the 47% or whatever, they're fair game for cannibalism, too.

From there it's a short step to building the military, to cannibalize other cultures, while cannibalizing our own educational and public-service programs to cover the costs.

But 98% of voters polled think one or the other candidate is the solution. Clearly, we aren't reaching them. Alternative parties are seen as crackpots and spoilers.

I think Denis Neville is correct: Things will have to get worse, until the 98% figure out neither 'dee or 'dum are the answer and "discover" alternatives. I only hope the successful alternative isn't some carnivorous right-wing populist gang that appeals to their inevitable anger. It's happened before, and it's happening already on a limited scale with the Tea Party mob. Major change doesn't necessarily have to be for the better.

Pearl said...

Not much attention is being paid to the many enlightened democrats running for Congressional seats, neck and neck with their opposition. The make up of our lawmakers, bad as it is, could get worse or improve slightly depending on who wins these many races. I voted for Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator, fighting for his political life and the outcome of Florida's close battle as a swing state. He is a very good man to keep in office - fighting the oil companies attempts to drill of the Florida coast, and genuinely supporting the best issues for the future. Should he lose, that would make a real dent in Congress and in many ways whomever becomes president will be guided by the balance put in place and the kind of direction elected house and Senate members take. It could make enough of a difference to count.

Should Romney get in, hopefully there will be wrangling among the Republicans in Congress which would tie his hands, and should Obama win, if enough progressively minded democrats get elected, they could influence his agenda. We will have to wait and see. Hope springs eternal.

Bonnie said...

To Dennis and everyone: Occupy is alive and well - I just read an article (sorry, can't remember where) that told about them organizing food, etc. in New York. Also, I'm close to Freeport Il where organizers have been camping out (in below freezing weather) for almost 50 days to call attention to Sensata (a Bain company) closing the plant there, putting 170 people out of work (in a town of only 25,000), and shipping the jobs to China.

We've had WONDERFUL people come from all over the US to help and speak to us, the "Ed Show" was even broadcast live a few weeks ago from there, we've had Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the head of the UAW, the head of SEIU, teachers, organizers, and food, etc. provided. A few weeks ago 15 people from FRANCE(!) flew over to tell their story through an intrepreter (their attorney) about Samsonite closing the factory in France - same situation. It has been impressive and humbling to observe and be there.

Occupy is ALIVE AND WELL. I'm so astounded by the young volunteers and people from churches and unions that are helping out. These young people fly all over the US to be where they are needed and to offer encouragement and try to get publicity for the plight of workers everywhere. They just don't get enough media attention.

I'm too old to go to OWS, or Oakland, or Texas, but I'm blessed to be close to this one! Don't get discouraged - these young people are TREMENDOUS.

Jay - Ottawa said...

A few mentions on this page about OWS. It’s coming back like a hardy weed, is it? Mayor Bloomberg won’t touch OWS now that it’s helping those who got sandied last week? Maybe not this week, but you can bet the Mayor’s new and improved security apparatus will spy on, infiltrate and beat up OWS leaders (again) as soon as we’re looking the other way – if history is any prologue to the future.

Crackdowns on legitimate protests, it seems, is the best way to keep the city’s security budget fat and growing fatter. At times, even the CIA and FBI think the mayor’s security operation has gone too far, after the wrong people, illegally, at great cost and, in the end, with very, very little to show for it. Except for a few mentally-handicapped people who were enticed into improbable capers that, in any event, put them behind bars for years.

An investigative report by Michael Greenberg reveals a good deal about the difficulties of OWS, Muslims and just plain lost souls in New York City. Throw out – or ignore – legal protections, entrap the retarded, spy on the entire Muslim community, and harass the OWS leadership until they’re exhausted. Part 1:
and part 2:

Greenberg’s report is one more chapter in the country’s frenzied response to 9/11. Terrorists won’t topple the country, but our establishment’s military, legal and police overreaction to 9/11 could change everything. As for groups like OWS, be aware that in NYC lawful political protesters are now lumped in with suspected terrorists.

"The New York Review" is an establishment-friendly publication (whole hog for Obama in the pre-election issue) so you might expect Greenberg to begin with the usual blather about OWS naïveté and blockheadedness. But if you push on he soon turns his spotlight on the counterterrorism unit of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division.

New York City has many targets for terrorists. The city does need a crack team engaged in counterterrorism. But has it gone too far in its “oversight void” to keep us secure? Most New Yorkers, when polled, were supportive of the Intel Division’s “mapping” of the 800,000 Muslim community with the help of countless informers, although profiling is supposed to be a no-no.

“The current situation is that one of the country’s most active and extensive spying agencies, with … ‘2,000 officers, including about a dozen overseas, assigned to counterterrorism’ operates without any objective outside mechanism of constraint.”

Greenberg ends his report with a question that we should keep asking ourselves:

“New Yorkers would do well to ask: At what point does justification of the ‘we are doing what we must to protect you’ line lose its plausibility and become a rote explanation for rampant civil rights violations with virtually no compensating public benefits that have been adequately explained to the public?”

Everything’s cool – provided you’re not a Muslim, or likely to resist openly against being pushed down into the ranks of the poor and near poor, or overly concerned about civil liberties.

Karen Garcia said...

The Sunday Times op-eds are already up. No comments allowed on the two good ones, about women resorting to dangerous surrogate motherhood just to pay the bills, and a piece by Drew Westen about the right-wing drift. The usual suspects pontificate on the horsey race. Frank Bruni longs for bipartisan peace. My response:

"Both parties acknowledge the need for tax reform and agree that we have to figure out a way to keep the spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in check, especially as the population ages."

Typical inside-the-Beltway malarkey! Billionaire deficit scold Pete Peterson's Third Way is on the rampage. Wall Street CEOs are circling like vultures, and the pundit class is full to bursting with stenographers claiming we need a pragmatic centrist cult to end a nonexistent war between extreme elements. Deflecting our attention away from the Class War much?

The corporate elites in charge of our government insist on cuts to Social Security, even though it has not contributed one cent to the deficit. As a matter of fact, the majority of people, in poll after poll, point to employment as their main concern. And what do both official parties do? They celebrate the slow uptick in low-wage, part-time jobs in the service sector even as they mindlessly continue chest-thumping about American exceptionalism.

The latest euphemism for cutting social programs in exchange for a few miniscule tax hikes for the obscenely rich, is "economic patriotism." It means nothing less than allowing the rich to get richer, and the middle class to just drown.

When government is gridlocked, lobbyists rejoice. They swoop right in to assist in the deal-making. "Grand bargains" are forged behind closed doors. Then they pat themselves on the back, and run all the way to the bank.

Karen Garcia said...

And here's my response to the Pasty Little Putz, as an FDL blogger calls Ross:

At the same time you envision ravening hordes of zombie grandmas eating their own young, you worry that not enough granny food is getting born due to some nefarious forced government contraception program.

Birth dearth? How about just coming back to Earth? The atmosphere in whatever conservative constellation you're floating around in is toxic, that's for sure. The Beltway chattering class all seem to have inhaled the same weird gas which makes them falsely claim that Social Security is driving the debt and the deficit.

Earth to Ross: Social Security is a retirement program funded by payroll contributions from workers and employers. It has not contributed one penny to the deficit. It should not be part of any Grand Bargain of deficit reduction.

Judging from all the gaseous moaning and groaning in Right Wing World, there must have been a massive overdose on Entitlement Crunchies this Halloween. But here's the perfect antidote to your Nightmare on Geezer Street, Ross: Single payer universal health care! Medicare for All, and All for Medicare.

Valerie said...

Doubt the Times will print my - you go girl! comment in response to your comment on Bruni - but here it is.

Yes, Karen! You are one of the few voices writing in the comment section addressing REAL issues of concern facing our country. Has Obama done anything to help avert climate change? I still see the Tar Sands Pipeline going through - harassing people into selling their family farms. This is Obama's idea of caring for the environment. Where is the kind of leadership that Jimmy Carter showed in working to get us off fossil fuels? What about the big banks which are bigger and more dangerous than ever to our economy? What about jobs - real jobs that pay a living wage? What about reining in the big health insurance companies instead of forcing people to buy their product at whatever price the health insurers choose to set? I am tired of the old argument that Obama is better than Romney when neither are talking about addressing the REAL issues. Ralph Nader is hosting a debate of the Third Party candidates - both left and right - where the real issues that Americans really care about will be addressed. It is tonight - the 4th - at 7:30 D.C. time. We should ALL be watching if we want to be truly informed. The debates between Romney and Obama locked out the voices that would show them for the pro-corporate candidates they are. We have other choices when it comes to going to the polls. If this is truly a democracy and not a duopoly, Americans should have the right to hear all sides and vote their conscience without being locked out of the discussion that affects the public good.

Valerie said...

Truthdig Radio is carrying a interview with Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson. I can't get it here in Australia but some of you might be interested. Here is the announcement.

This week on Truthdig Radio in association with KPFK: There’s an election Tuesday, and we invite the two main alternative candidates to make a case for why we should take a chance on them in an election that is already too close to call. Also: Mo Rocca and Robert Scheer.

Still don't have any info. on the debate hosted by Ralph Nader tonight. I imagine the same crowd that kept the candidates out of the RomBama debates are working being the scenes to keep the debate from going public. Think how bad it would make both heads of the duopoly look.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Valerie. And for those of you afraid of getting "Naderized" if you voted third party, it turns out that Virgil Goode may actually help Obama win Virginia by "stealing" votes away from Romney. If this one state seals the deal for the president, there will be an end to the third party spoiler and LOTE hand-wringing canards coming from the so-called liberals.

Zee said...


An excellent review of the lousy state of disaster relief in New York City and immediate environs. I have read of the various state National Guards being sluggishly involved in relief efforts, but is FEMA anywhere to be seen? Or is the Campaigner-in-Chief too busy begging for votes and money to dispatch FEMA assistance, just as he was too busy campaigning to consider dispatching Special Ops forces from Italy—only an hour's flight away—to the consulate in Benghazi?

I especially share your contempt for the entitlement bilge spouted off by reporter or columnist Jason Sheftell. My re-phrasing of Sheftell's remarks is:

“How dare WE be treated like some jerkwater burg in Connecticut? Let those bumpkins freeze in the dark! WE'RE NEW YORK CITY, FOR CHRISSAKE, THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS, AND BY GOD, HEADS WILL ROLL FOR THIS SLIGHT!"

As one who lives in the hinterlands myself, let me add: “To hell with you and your self-centered ilk, Jason Sheftell!”

And on a different note, I was actually looking for reports of crime, looting and armed defense in the wake of Sandy (Of course I would be, wouldn't I?)—and, yes, there has been some, especially in Queens and the Rockaways—but I was quite impressed to learn that not only has OWS set up a relief center there, getting food and water to stranded residents, but that the center is being powered by solar panels on a Greenpeace truck, which evidently also brought in the OWS volunteers.

As I think @Valerie would say, “Good on them!”

Pearl said...

I mentioned to Karen how tired I am of the twice daily e-mails from Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her drumming up support in Florida for Obama. There have been several articles written lately that the voting among Jews in this election could possibly make a difference in the results. Many Jewish voters support Obama intensely while others, who feel that he has let down Israel by his lack of strong supportive statements about Netanhahu are voting for Romney who has pledged his undying love to the country and its leaders. Since Florida is a swing state this is crucial as well as in other swing states and has divided the Jewish community even more than before.

It will be interesting to see the breakdown of whom specific groups voted for and how it affected the results and whom the new or old president will or should be beholden to. I wonder how effective the voting of those who don't support Obama and don't vote or vote for a third party will figure in the results.

Denis Neville said...

“We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We will be betrayed by the smoothest con artist for the benefit of the plutocracy with the ultimate demise of Social Security.

Obama’s Payroll Tax Holiday came directly from the Social Security Trust Fund. By substituting Treasury funds for workers’ contributions, it violated the principle that Social Security should be a self-funding program. It was borrowing twice to pay the same benefits. For the first time in Social Security’s history, it was technically adding to the deficit. It was the beginning of the end of Social Security as we knew it.

The key to “reforming” Social Security is convincing people that it is an unsustainable “entitlement” program rather than the “pay-as-you-go”social insurance it was intended to be. Obama and DINOs gave its opponents the argument - Social Security being a drain on the General Fund - they wanted to cripple it.

Obama is really the choice of the corporate elites because Romney would never be able to deliver the Grand Betrayal. Obama and DINOS will give Republicans the political cover they need to unravel the safety net.

What kind of American society is Obama creating? A nation whose economic basis is oligarchy and whose political system is authoritarianism.

Obama’s just not that into us.

Remember the Supremes?

Do they understand why more than a few of us feel differently?

“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences. That may sound simple to the point of childishness; I can't judge if it's simple, but I know it's true....If, by making that statement, I, too, become a carrier of the plague-germ, at least I don't do it willfully. I try, in short, to be an innocent murderer. You see, I've no great ambitions.

"I grant we should add a third category: that of the true healers. But it's a fact one doesn't come across many of them, and anyhow it must be a hard vocation. That's why I decided to take, in every predicament, the victims' side, so as to reduce the damage done. Among them I can at least try to discover how one attains to the third category; in other words, to peace." - Albert Camus, The Plague.

Zee said...


I had lunch with a younger friend today whose politics are similar to mine. He has been deluged by robocalls and e-mails whereas Mrs. Zee and I have received none.

Have I (we) finally reached that Nirvana state of "politically intransigent" and worth neither calls nor e-mails?

And if so, how did we do it?


Neil Gillespie said...

Karen, great comments on poverty and income inequality. How about a candidate in favor of trickle-up economics for a change?

@Denis, thanks for two great quotes, FDR on Social Security, and Camus. And yes, Obama’s just not that into us.

For those who would vote for NOBama on account of his Supreme Court pics, consider Yves Smith’s post at naked capitalism, "The Democrats’ Dubious Record on the Supreme Court"

One of the rationales generally regarded as a knockout among center-left types in the "who is less terrible, Romney or Obama" debate, is the idea that Presidents nominate Supreme Court justices, and Romney’s picks would be further to the right than Obama’s, particularly as far as their position on social issues like reproductive choice and gay rights are concerned.

Narrowly, that’s likely to prove to be accurate. And there are voters who are understandably unwilling to take any chances on these issues. However, the power to nominate is not the same as the power to appoint. It’s disingenuous for Democratic party operatives and their allies in the punditocracy to act as if the move of the court to the right is solely the doing of evil Republicans.

Hoisted from comments: MontanaMaven says:

Democrats can block radical nominations. But they don’t. They let Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Scalia be appointed. Ginsburg is like Sotomayor and Kagan. Appointed for her pro-business leanings. Democratic operatives succeed in getting Democrats all riled up about abortion and gay rights and how the Supreme Court nominations are vital while hoping same Democratic voters don’t understand the real objective is to keep the pro business status quo. There was a New York Times Magazine article years ago called "Supreme Court, Inc." on this. The last of Nader’s Raiders have gone down to defeat against the pro Chamber of Commerce Supremes.

@Zee, re looking for reports of crime, looting and armed defense. Some time ago NYC ordered its citizens to beat their swords into plowshares. Still, some home repair tools can improvise, not to mention the fine assortment of knives found in many home kitchens.

@Pearl, thanks for the reminder on Bill Nelson.

Obama we hardly knew ye: Your bank-love, drone-killings, (fill in the blank)...

Anne Lavoie said...

Anyone notice the bloom of love and the starry eyes for Obama shining from Bloomberg and Christie? I detect a bad case of infatuation.

Obama must have worked some of his Chicago political magic on those two. Climate change = Big Buck$ for Big Project$ from the federal government. Suddenly we will be seeing bipartisan phony angst over climate change as they jostle for federal funds, not just for recovery and reconstruction, but for future capitalist enterprises. More corporate welfare offered by Obama on a silver platter and coming right up to satisfy their appetites.

Shrinking the government isn't going to be so high on the agenda any more. Think of all the big fat construction projects Obama must have whispered in their ears, making them salivate.

Money talks, and Obama is the best mouthpiece. He'll come through for them too. No broken promises for the VIPs.

James F Traynor said...

A couple of days ago I watched a taped interview of Romney by some local radio station somewhere. I clicked the link out of ennui. And suddenly there he was - the man, Romney. It wasn't what he said, but the way he said it, the body language and the way he treated the host. He is very dangerous - the man I saw and heard. It doesn't matter what he says or believes. He would be dangerous, no matter what. Well, perhaps not, but I think you know what I mean.

In my life I've come across such men rarely. Three that I can recall, one that was eventually killed, the other two, who I'm almost certain went on to kill, acted in consort. I've met a lot of bullies. They are, pretty much, a dime a dozen and are, essentially, emotionally weak. This man I saw did not fit that category. He made me extremely uncomfortable. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the issues. Primal, atavistic - but real.

Anne Lavoie said...

@James F Traynor

Well that settles it. If Romney looks like a killer and Obama IS one and even brags about it publicly, then the only option is to vote for a third party candidate.

James F Traynor said...

@Ann Lavoie

I'm not talking about institutional or tribal killing or killers. This is something else. It's beyond the pale. If you'd ever felt it or seen it you'd know damn well what I'm talking about. And I hope you never do.