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|Weathering Fights - Science: What's It Up To?|
The fact that science has somehow become a political issue makes me absolutely lose my marbles. This “Republican strategist” feels that every American should go with their gut feelings rather than what scientists prove through testing and peer review. And she says it with a straight face.
I read this really interesting article yesterday in the NY Times Magazine about how the as the US has gotten better about mainstreaming various dispossessed groups (black, Hispanic, women, gays), the distribution of (power and) wealth in the US has gotten more extreme.
I definitely recommend reading the article. It got me thinking about the middle class though. A while ago, a friend who was in college asked me what “class” I thought I belonged in. At the time, I owned two homes, split my time between Manhattan and Los Angeles and was making more than double what I make now. I said I was in the upper class – because I knew that I made significantly more than most people in the country. She later told me it was interesting, because there was a family she asked who were extremely wealthy (way more than me) & when she asked them, they said that they were upper middle class.
Today, I feel like I am in the upper middle class. But percentage/income wise, I’m in the top 10 or so percentage of Americans. I’m not the only one – we compare ourselves to our neighbors and our point of reference is obviously skewed.
Recently Mitt Romney, while referring to the middle class, said “us”, including himself in this group. This is a man who has many millions of dollars – was he being dishonest, or does he really feel like he’s part of the middle class?
Here’s a breakdown (from Wikipedia, so make be somewhat inaccurate):
Bottom 28% makes up to $25,000 a year
Next 27% makes $25,000 – $50,000 a year
Next 18% makes $50,000 – $75,000 a year
Next 11% makes $75,000 – $100,000 a year
Top 16% makes $100,000 or more
Being generous and using the above numbers as a broad reference, that would make the middle class anyone who makes $25,000 – $100,000 a year. But middle class should be defined not simply about income. $100,000 a year is a lot of money in a small city or town in the middle of the country, but not in San Francisco or New York City where cost of living is so high. $100,000 in Omaha needs to be balanced against something like $65,000 (random number pulled from my butt, but you understand) in NYC due to cost of living. We can’t simply break down classes by income because it’s not reasonable, but in my (very quick) internet search, I didn’t see anything that took this into account.
In the same Wikipedia article, they show several different models of defining class, always using income as the means of breaking down the classes. All three models show the top 1% as a separate class and two of the three models show the next top 15% as upper middle class. How does someone in the top 16% somehow end up in the “middle”?
I am really thinking about this in regards to the 99% movement, which officially includes all of us earning less than $500k or so. There’s obviously a difference in political influence between those at the very top and the rest of us and so, I think the reference to 99% works. However, I am a little confused about how we think about what is middle class, especially if Mitt Romney thinks he’s one of us.
Cause no matter what, Mitt Romney is not one of us.
** Updated at 8:20am with this info from new article on The Atlantic’s website based on 2010 payroll taxes reported to the Social Security Administration:
Half of all workers made less than $25,364, which means that the typical wage is at its lowest level since 1999, after adjusting for inflation (and makes us have to rethink the percentages in the Wikipedia breakdown above).
The number of millionaires increased by about 20%.
Enlarge Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
A sign on an RV announces the end of the world, outside Harold Camping's ministry in Oakland, Calif., Monday, May 23, 2011. Ahead of that day, many of Camping's followers had quit their jobs or donated money to pay for more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
A sign on an RV announces the end of the world, outside Harold Camping's ministry in Oakland, Calif., Monday, May 23, 2011. Ahead of that day, many of Camping's followers had quit their jobs or donated money to pay for more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.
The Oakland minister who predicted the end of the world would take place on Friday, Oct. 21, was confronted by the continuation of the world instead. It marks the second time this year that the ministry led by Harold Camping, 90, has settled on a doomsday date, only to have it tick by in quotidian fashion.
But to be fair, Camping has said that "the end is going to come very, very quietly," as Mark reported last week.
The AP reports:
Family Radio International stirred a global frenzy when it predicted the rapture would take 200 million Christians to heaven on May 21. Its most recent pronouncement said natural disasters would destroy the globe on Friday.
Though two moderate quakes did jolt the San Francisco Bay area on Thursday, the planet remained intact.
The ministry and its 90-year-old leader, Harold Camping, are avoiding the media this time and perhaps a repeat of the international mockery that followed the previous prediction.
Calls to the ministry went to voicemail and were unreturned.
After the earlier date elapsed, a message on the Family Radio site announced that the "day" of May 21, 2011, would last for five months — or until Oct. 21, 2011.
The folks over at the Family Radio International website were evidently confident in the Oct. 21 date: As of Friday afternoon, the "What's New" section had not been updated since Oct. 16.
You know, like the GOP says – we can’t regulate or force insurance companies to do anything because that’s anti-capitalist. The market will regulate itself because that’s how capitalism works, right?
From today’s NY Times:
Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.
In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan, although children can still be covered.
The company said the changes were not a result of the new federal health care law. But the higher rates along with steep spikes in premiums for other plans this year are likely to stoke the national debate over the year-old legislation that has pitted President Obama and Democrats against Republicans opposed to the changes. Challenges to the law by several states are now before the Supreme Court.
Wal-Mart also significantly reduced the amount of money it contributes to the savings accounts workers can use to pay for medical bills that are not covered under their plan. Last year, the company put $1,000 into accounts for families but it will cut the amount by half for next year to just $500. Companies typically put more money into these accounts as a way of encouraging employees to choose these plans, which cost employers less than traditional policies.
While Wal-Mart defends its decision to reduce these contributions, few companies have made similar cuts, according to Mercer. Companies are continuing to try to do what they can to encourage employees to enroll in these plans, said Beth Umland, who oversees the company’s benefits research.
Barbara Collins, a sales associate at the Wal-Mart in Placerville, Calif., said that the premiums for the H.M.O. plan for herself and her 5-year-old son would rise to $18 every two weeks from $10. Her big concern, she said, was that her deductible would jump to $5,000 a year, from $1,000 — a daunting amount considering she earns $19,000 a year.
I’m so frustrated with US politics. Obama has done some good things (like healthcare and DADT ending) and disappointed me (like leaving Guantanamo open) and just overall, I feel like he hasn’t positioned himself as a leader. Some of the attacks on him say that he just wasn’t ready and I’m afraid there may be something to that. However, I think that the more important issue is that his personality and approach is not that of someone who grabs the reins and says “this is wrong. This is what we must do.” Instead, he says “this is a concern. We should talk about how to address it.” Even when he makes proposals, they aren’t particularly strong and they are so frigging moderate – no matter what he does, they’re going to say he’s a socialist, so why even try to be moderate unless you really are? I was hoping for more aggressive leader and I didn’t get it.
The 99%/Occupy movement is really super interesting to me. First of all, it’s the first time (other briefly for Obama’s election) that I’ve seen young people (and old people) really worked up & willing to participate in the electoral process. I think it’s because they’re frustrated with Obama as well – I think they’re frustrated with the whole scene – the rich are always taken care of, but increasingly, the rest of us are increasingly ignored. I am incredibly blessed with my job and financial situation, but I definitely feel that I am ignored politically because the corporations and the wealthy have the means (which at this point boil down to money) to make politicians jump. I really hope that all these people vote. Not enough unhappy people are voting – they’re sitting out the process and letting the loudmouths make the decisions.
And that brings me to the 57th GOP presidential debate tonight. I have watched most of these debates and find myself increasingly upset with what’s going on. Mitt Romney could have been a decent moderate with a good shot at pulling in the undecideds. But he’s so busy tacking to the right to appease the GOP base, he’s losing the middle and the GOP base still doesn’t like him because he was moderate 20 minutes or so ago.
Huntsman is interesting in a reasonable, I believe in science way, but he is against abortion (maybe he isn’t really & is just appeasing the right, but that’s what he says) and gay marriage, so I have a big problem with him on social issues.
Perry is a bad GWB rerun and I just don’t think that’s going to play with the country at this time. Bachmann and Ron Paul are extremist nutcases with no chance of even a VP nom. They are distractions and they encourage the loud (and in my opinion, uneducated and misinformed by Fox “News”) minority.
And then there’s the businessman, Herman Cain who refuses to answer any question with details. He replies that he will rely on advisors for foreign affairs when he’s President (of course he will – they all must rely on experts to give them the details and backgrounds and make recommendations), but he seems to think it’s ok not to know anything about foreign affairs until something happens where he must. This is naïve and dangerous. Same thing with his tax plan – when questioned about some specifics, he just says “I don’t know.” I don’t really care where the plan came from (although I am very amused by the fact that 9-9-9 is the default plan in Sim City) – I care that it’s well thought out and can be discussed and defended by the man who is recommending it. Having a hundred words about it on your webpage is insufficient. We’re talking about potentially changing the entire US tax scheme – that can’t be explained in a page. There are so many issues to be considered and defined. It’s just ridiculous.
I will say that I would kinda like Cain to get the nod just to make the racists heads explode. But that’s mostly for humor’s sake and not a great political reason to support the dude.
Of course I’m going to vote for Barry. But I am so let down by him. And I am very distressed by the way that the GOP has kowtowed to the Tea Party and are ignoring multiple polls that show that the majority of Americans WANT to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Extremism is unrealistic in a democracy – saying “we won’t raise taxes for any reason” and refusing to budge is having an incredibly dangerous effect on the country. Of course there’s waste and it should be addressed. But spending time and money addressing waste on NPR and Planned Parenthood isn’t just stupid, divisive and political – it’s a waste of energy & time! The percentage of money that is given to these causes is so minimal, that even if the GOP “won” & got these orgs unfunded, it would make NO difference in the big picture.
Until the GOP and the spineless Democratic party are willing to look at where we actually spend the vast majority of our tax dollars = Defense, Medicare, Social Security AND look at raising taxes, we’re going to continue to be in a huge financial mess.
There’s always Canada.
Shamar Thomas, a marine veteran, was upset and frustrated when he saw NYC policemen attacking non-violent protesters at the Occupy Wall Street protests. He was shocked when he saw a cop punching a woman in the face and felt compelled to speak up. This video shows him that night and an interview with Keith Olbermann where he explains why he chose to speak out and how the police responded to him.
Reasons to Fear Canada.
BY Sean Carman- - - -Ninety percent of population is massed within 100 miles of northern American border.
Seems not to mind that one of its provinces has turned almost entirely French.
Excessive politeness only makes sense as cover for something truly sinister. But what?
Citizens seem strangely impervious to cold.
Decriminalization of marijuana and acceptance of gay marriage without corresponding collapse of social institutions indicate Canada may, in fact, be indestructible.
Has infiltrated entertainment industry with singers, actors, and comedians practically indistinguishable from their American counterparts.
Consistently stays just below cultural radar yet never quite disappears.
Parliamentary government and common-law judiciary appear to function acceptably yet remain completely inscrutable.
Never had a “disco phase.”
Seemingly endless supply of timber, donuts, and Scotch-plaid hats with earflaps.
Keeps insisting it “has no designs on America” and “only wants peace.”
Plays a mean game of pond hockey.
by Mike Flynn
The fringe crazies at Westboro Church are going to protest Steve Jobs’ funeral for…well, for reasons I can’t possibly explain. As best I can tell, they believe this titan of capitalism should have done more to support their particular religious views. I don’t know. But, their tweet is delicious…
If you think Steve Jobs’ funeral is worthy of protest (!), shouldn’t you maybe not want to use his one of his products to announce it? I mean, according to them, he gave God no glory and taught sin. (!) And yet, they will use his greatest innovation to spread the word of their protest. Couldn’t they find a Droid phone for this?
Write your own joke in the comments.
Tags: funeral, protest, steve jobs, westboro church
Posted Oct 5th 2011 at 10:39 pm in Culture | Edit 34490085 Commentshttp%3A%2F%2Fbiggovernment.com%2Fmikeflynn%2F2011%2F10%2F05%2Fwestboro-church-announces-protest-of-steve-jobs-funeral-on-the-iphone%2FWestboro+Church+Announces+Protest+of+Steve+Jobs%27+Funeral...on+an+iPhone2011-10-06+05%3A39%3A26Mike+Flynnhttp%3A%2F%2Fbiggovernment.com%2F%3Fp%3D344900
The Occupy Wall Street movement spread to Chicago this week, where protesters have gathered outside the Chicago Board of Trade, the world’s oldest options and futures trading center. Like the protesters in New York and other cities around the country, the group gathered to protest our nation’s growing income inequality, as the top 1 percent of Americans continue to see their incomes rise rapidly and their tax rates fall. The Chicago traders, confronted by the protesters’ “We are the 99 percent” message, crafted their own not-so-subtle reply, hanging signs in eighth-floor windows that read "We are the 1%". Despicable.
The posts at WeAreThe99Percent are sobering, shocking.
They are some of people caught in the downward spiral of the US economy, but in reality it’s been happening for years as the split between the wealthy and the ‘middle class’ gets increasingly large.
The stories are of cripplingly high health care costs that destroy families, of foreclosures on mortgages and of the obvious result of years of banks pushing debt to customers.
There are also strong themes of ever-increasingly expensive education that is of diminishing value in the job market, and people are loaded up with tens of thousands in debt and low paid or no jobs.
These are signs of a society that is failing its people, and a strong articulation of exactly what the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about.
Is this the real Tea Party?
David Koch, second richest man in New York is apparently a cornerstone funder of the Tea Party, and he and his brother hold strong Libertarian views. Some of those views I regard as part of a fair society (legalisation of prostitution and drugs, gay marriage, removal of farm subsidies) but some are downright dangerous (removal of Social Security, the Federal Reserve Board and welfare).
The Tea Party movement was arguably taken over and certainly accelerated by Fox News into what seems to be a nutty right wing group, but the mass membership are driven by much of the same concerns as Occupy Wall St.
This newer Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be a genuine one, rising from a sea of frustration from people who are under-served and with little prospect. It started from a suggestion in a email from Adbusters to their readers, and seems to have no leaders.
Many of the participants made mistakes, perhaps taking on too much debt or studying the wrong degrees. But many more of them have done what society demanded of them, attending university, paying insurance, buying a car – and then got clobbered. The safety net in the USA has many holes, and doesn’t last for long.
The problems are not so simple
A lot of what the financial industry (Wall Street) does is good, even the slicing and dicing of mortgages up into CDOs was a good idea. What was not good was the pricing of those CDOs, the way they were sold and the way that mortgages were granted to people who realistically had no hope of ever paying them off. What is worse is the propensity to clip the ticket for increasing amounts. The short term dealmaking, get the money now nature of the street has its place as lubricant for helping businesses make tough decisions, but it encourages unacceptable banking practices in the long run. The US really does need to reinstitute the separation of retail banks and investment/trading banks, and bring in adult supervision.
The financial institutions do not stand alone in being recipients of fury. US corporations there are paying an increasingly small share of the overall tax burden, with some such as GE earning billions and paying little or no tax, or even receiving rebates. This is the result from years of corporate lobbying for tweaks in tax law, and the results are repugnant. The USA could learn from New Zealand should dramatically simplify their tax code, much like Roger Douglas did in 1984, and introduce a GST.
That’s not to say that that everyone on Wall Street is repugnant, or that even they see themselves doing wrong – far from it. It’s a game where the choices are laid out in front of you, and if you excel then the money will come. It’s a game where the amount of money flying around is so high that it’s relatively easy to ensure that a little sticks to those making the transaction.
Financiers however play within rules set for them by legislators in Washington DC. Those legislators are there thanks to a host of donations from thousands of people, but some of the larger amounts come from companies and individuals on Wall Street. That mixture of politics and money has lifted the concerns of corporations and diminished the relative concerns of individuals. It’s got to stop, but a recent Supreme Court decision actually went the other way – defending the right of corporations to get involved in elections.
A decent society is decent to everyone, regardless of whether they are old, young, sick, or healthy, or even whether they chose at times not to abide by our rules. I reject completely the idea of living in a society that accepts homelessness, that does not care for mentally and that locks up people for offenses that are relatively harmless. We humans are better than that.
Being part of the 1 percent
I was lucky enough to study and work at two elite USA institutions – Yale University and McKinsey & Co. The experiences at those two places were outstanding – the level of education at top schools and the scale of the work available in the USA at the top end far exceeds anything here. I helped, for example, 2 organisations with over $500 billion in assets at the highest level. I was taught by people that wrote the books we study from and met a group of ultra smart, globally savvy, fun and driven people. In short I was becoming part of the 1 percent, even though for four of my five years in the USA I was in debt, and even though my income paled in comparison with those on Wall street.
I deliberately chose not to apply for Wall Street jobs during my MBA, as despite the fun of playing with large sums of money there seemed to be little reward beyond chasing the money god. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to temp for a few months in a bank that sold structured financial products in London, counting the amount of money that the bankers had made over and above the internally calculated value of those products. It was a calculation of a knowledge advantage, and the units were millions of dollar per day. Those bankers or traders were seen as the elite within the bank people, but in reality they were arseholes, and like everyone else there, including me, they were dedicated to making money and to little else. I was lucky because I managed to get kicked out relatively quickly.
Being part of the 1 percent as a professional isn’t easy either. You are expected to work incredibly hard, maintain a certain sense of decorum and not rock the boat. It helps to have gone to the right school, for undergraduate and graduate studies, if not before. You don’t get much in the way of holidays, and are expected to be on call at all times.
I managed, courtesy of the last recession, to again break away from the USA corporate scene.
Meanwhile in New Zealand many are experiencing at some of the negative impact of the GFC, though I am unsure as to how bad it really is. Compound that with the hammering that Christchurch took, and while we are just getting on with it, we potentially have some real problems.
However we are blessed with a society and politics that, ACT party notwithstanding, generally and genuinely finds it unacceptable to treat people so harshly.
We are seeing increasing disparity between the wealthy and the rest in NZ, and we therefore need to doubly continue to ensure that the social welfare safety net is working. That means free or cheap education and health, as fundamental rights, it means a living income for everyone regardless of their circumstance and it means making sure we don’t have a situation where housing is unaffordable and can create catastrophic losses for families.
At the same time we need a society and economy where businesses can start, nurture, grow and prosper. We already have some good elements in our tax system, but there is a way to go before we get a fair tax system that rewards entrepreneurialism and has minimal loopholes. We don’t, for example, tax capital gains at all here. A simple across the board 20% tax on capital gains worked well in the USA for many years, and a tax I would welcome here, excluding only primary residences.
While there are problems, we have a good society here, and many live the life that many of the 1 percenters do not manage to live in the USA. We have the lifestyle many in the world dream of, while we have the ideal economy to start and grow businesses.
So what can we do about it here in NZ?
There is not a lot we can do about US policy, and it is senseless to get buried in US politics as it is something which we can and should not try to influence. Also it is, as far as I know, illegal for non-citizens to donate to campaigns.
But we can make sure that we don’t follow in the footsteps of the US by making sure we stay vigilant on the things that make our society great. We missed for example, decent regulation of finance companies, resulting in the loss of billions. We succeeded though in standing up to banks, and their current strength is partially a function of that.
Why can’t we make our 1% into 100%? Why not aim to make New Zealanders the envy of the world, combining a (minimum) decent living with a vibrant economy and the world’s best lifestyle.
It’s something worth pushing for, and here are some of the basic elements I believe we need to (continue to) push for*:
- A simple social welfare system that ensures everyone gets a living wage, regardless of the reason they need help
- Low or no income taxes for those earning under a minimum amount
- Free or near free high and consistent quality education for those who cannot afford otherwise
- Free or near free health care for those who cannot afford otherwise
- A flat capital gains tax (say 20%) on all capital gains except for sale of the primary residence
- Decriminalization of all and legalization of certain drugs, to drive safer drug taking though better messaging, less drug taking (Portugal example), higher income from tax on drug sales and removal of the largest cause of crime from the mandate of police.
- Constant effort to maintain our short election campaigns and campaign financing that cannot be influenced by wealth of individuals or corporations.
- Constant effort to increasingly simplify tax law, making it as easy for corporates to understand their income liability as it it is with GST.
- Firm and fair regulation from well educated and informed regulators of companies that take money from investors.
- Continued celebration of individuals who make it big by building great companies with strong values, and condemnation of those who create wealth through financial trickery and do not give back.
There is more. However for now my main question is just how bad is it in New Zealand? Are we seeing the desperation of the US, or are our limited resources being largely applied where it matters? We will always have perceived and actual individual injustices, and we should seek to clear them, but for now it is the systemic ones that we need to worry about.
*Note that I don’t believe, for now anyway, in a financial transaction tax as has been mooted by some. The call is for a, say, 50 cent tax on each financial transaction. The difficulty is in understanding exactly what a transaction is. Traders could simply gather up all trades for a day between themselves and other institutions and call them one transaction. Alternatively if the tax was based on the number of securities exchanging hands, then bankers would simply construct products with higher face value and lower numbers of securities. And so on. For every tax a financial product can be created off-market that avoids the tax, but only the largest banks will be able to do this. The smaller investors would pay the tax regardless.
These are not people who "choose not to work". These are fellow Americans in a terrible situation who are outraged at the power that Wall Street and other mega-corporations have in the US.
One thing that strikes me about all these notes is that they are all spelled properly. These are educated people. Contrast them with the signs at the tea party rallies...