Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who are the "panhandlers"?

I've talked with perhaps 30 "panhandlers" in recent weeks.  I can't say for sure how many were mentally ill, drug or alcohol addicts, but only 5 or 6 out of the 30 seemed to me to be suffering from anything that more income or a job wouldn't fix.  Most were formerly productive working people who've fallen off the bottom rung and are now trapped in extreme poverty.

The most common reasons were long waits to get onto SSDI or not enough money from SSDI to live on.  Many are still in a room or apartment and trying to keep a roof over their heads. Some are in tents or sleeping in their cars.  One has a goal of $20 a day to pay for staying on someone's couch.  All agreed that almost anything - even jail - is better than having to go into the former PIP shelter - if they could even get in.  (Many can't!)

Almost all were very clear that they did not want to be begging in the street. It's humiliating, degrading, and they get a lot of hate and abuse from passing motorists.  In conversations with me - and with each other that I overhear at the free church breakfasts - they talk of how hard it is to get enough money to meet their goals.

Many spoke with pride of the way they never harass motorists, and of their good relationships with the police.  They approved of the way police would chase off or arrest sign-holders who harassed motorists or interfered with traffic, and wondered why a new law would be needed.

Not one referred to themselves or each other as "pan-handlers", which has built into it a suggestion of swindler, scam artist, professional beggar.  They refer to themselves as "signers" or "sign-holders".  Never have I seen any indication of their being organized.  The infamous "white van": someone apparently borrowed it from a relative whose couch they were sleeping on.

For most, the main solutions to their problems are a full-employment economy - we all need that! - higher SSDI payments for those who truly can't work, and more and better help with housing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The pulse of the WalMart Associates

Worcester Unemployment Action Group members turned out for the demonstrations at the Northborough, Worcester and N. Oxford WalMarts yesterday.  Why is that our issue?  Because those are the kind of jobs we're being pushed into!  A WalMart future, which is to say no future at all!

Just last week WalMart announced a 34% increase in the employee contribution to health care - on top of a 40% increase last year - and an increase in hours required to be eligible to 30/week.  Not that many WalMart workers average 30 hours a week.  Workers' shifts get changed without notice, so they can't hold another job or keep up with other responsibilities - and they have no right to refuse.  Many are on food stamps, subsidized housing and Commonwealth Care.  Now all but the minority of "full time workers" will be depending on the taxpayers for health care!

One of the posters (in the T&G comments) said the workers should go back to school and get a degree if they want something better.  But our educated guess is that many of the workers at WalMart have had successful careers and many have college degrees or more!  Now they've been thrown on the slag heap, and that slag heap looks like ... WalMart!

We were warmly greeted by WalMart workers wherever we went, many thanked us and some even cheered!  Apparently none of the "associates" were reporting us to the manager until we started chanting.  At one store we were just planning to deliver a letter to the manager but he was taking his time showing up - apparently no one had told him he had a problem!  He showed up quick enough when we started chanting!

Even the ones ordering us out of the store mostly were friendly and almost apologetic.    

My guess is that the only thing keeping all 1.4 million WalMart workers from walking off the job is fear.  But you can only push people so far before they reach the point where they feel they just have to take a stand and fight back. That moment could be almost at hand.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Transaction Tax on Stocks and Bonds

Reply to comment on previously cited post to

Proof Reader:

The Transaction Tax in the Full Employment bill would be 0.25 percent  on each stock or bond trade, and 0.1 percent on each derivative trade.

If you are an investor who holds a stock for a year on average before selling it, that would be two trades on a $100 stock, costing you an extra 50 cents per hundred per year.  Speculators who hold stocks and bonds for days or minutes before selling could run up quite a bill.

This tax would hugely reduce the volatility of the markets and would largely eliminate the advantage enjoyed by programmed computer traders, making the market fairer and less dangerous for smaller investors.  I would expect that your average garden variety millionaire would actually come out ahead!

Obama reaching across the aisle

Comment in Telegram Online:

So we are all waiting to learn: when Obama talks about compromise and reaching across the aisle, is this code for agreeing to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?  And will he sacrifice the unemployed by letting the Emergency Unemployment Compensation act expire?  The signs are not encouraging.

We need to make clear to him - it's not OK to throw Grandma under the bus!  That's not what we reelected him for!  And not OK to sacrifice Uncle Freddy who's been looking for a job for over a year!

Compromise? - never mind reaching across the aisle.  The Left/Right divide in Congress - and on Network TV - is not the real divide in this country.  How about reaching across the street to where the people are!

Tim Murray for Governor?

Comment on Telegram Online article
New political order may lift Murray’s prospects
What I'd be looking for from Tim is to stop pretending everything's coming up roses and admit the truth about unemployment: it's still a disaster, even here in Massachusetts. Much worse than the laughable 6% (or 6.5%) figure that he likes to brag about. 

We don't know the "real rate" of unemployment and underemployment in Massachusetts or Worcester - the most common guess by folks on the ground is about 20% - but nationally if you take the Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6 rate (currently over 14%) and add an estimate of long-term discouraged workers (see it comes to about 23% - not counting all the people on SSDI and SSI who would be working in a good economy! 

And we don't really know if it's getting better here. The building trades unions have seen employment pick up over the past year, but some folks lower on the totem pole think it's getting worse. Bragging about that 6% figure may get Tim points with business leaders and administrators but regular folk are hungry for some real honesty. 

Sad to say, Brown and Romney were closer to the truth on this issue, although they didn't have anything but empty promises to offer. 

A good starting place would be for Tim to speak out about the urgent need to stop the expiration of the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation act on Dec. 31, and to restore the Extensions to their original length, 99 weeks. 

Next step, he could speak out for passage of the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act that would put millions back to work with a small tax on stock, bond and derivatives trades, and for his partner Patrick to stop sitting on the $16 billion for public projects that the Legislature has approved over the past few years and start spending it. 

Then he could speak for emergency help for the probably several hundred thousand Mass. unemployed who have exhausted their benefits or were never eligible - with relief, and especially with housing. 

That Tim Murray could be unstoppable! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Interest Rate trap and the Tea Party


I know your heart, and it is good.  If there is hope for this country, it will come from people like you.  But if you're going to be a realist you have to look at the big picture, not just at how things are and how they've "always been".  

This article came across my desktop just a few days ago:  "It's the Interest, Stupid!  Why bankers rule the world" by Ellen Brown

Brown makes the astonishing claim that interest payments to the banks - on personal, mortgage, business, corporate and federal, state and local debt - have reached 35% to 40% of our GNP and is still rising exponentially.  We're talking maybe $6 trillion a year and rising, going to the banks and other owners of interest-bearing paper!  That dwarfs the billions they're trying to squeeze out of government spending - and out of our paychecks.  And it's reaching a limit - the economy is imploding because we don't have nearly enough purchasing power to buy back what we make!

I've been watching Ellen Brown for a while.  She's on the level and her work is solid.

So what do we do with this situation?  

If we join with the Tea Party and the GOP and we succeed in removing the government (but not the courts and police) from our lives, that mountain of debt continues to grow and our economy continues to suffocate and collapse.  The super-rich who are fattening off this meltdown will grow ever more cruel and oppressive.  It will not end well.  

Or rather, it is not ending well.

Romney and Brown had to be stopped, but clearly Democrats like Obama, have no answer, just timid steps sort of in the right direction.  They're paid for and enmeshed with the same web of billionaires.  Obama got his start with Goldman Sachs money, and during his first four years not one banker was even indicted for trashing and plundering the world economy, never mind tried and convicted.  (By contrast, following the Savings and Loan scandal in the 1980's there were thousands of Federal indictments, including many bank CEO's and CFO's, and over 1000 criminal convictions.)

We need a new kind of politics.  We will have to go on creating and supporting it ourselves. 

Message from God? Might as well be!

What about Climate Change? Mayor Blumberg just endorsed Obama, citing climate change as a main reason and citing his moves on car efficiency and alternative energy, and Obama makes brief comments about it in campaign speeches, but in three debates neither candidate even mentioned it! 

For those who think that the Good Lord wouldn't let us destroy our planet, consider this: 

Right before a critical election, with one of the candidates aligned with the "climate change deniers" and huge donations from the oil and coal industries in play, the largest and most powerful North Atlantic storm ever recorded comes cruising along our coast, makes a sharp left turn at full moon, sends the powerful north wall of the eye of the huricaine smashing straight into New York Harbor and swamps the city. 

If you're into looking for messages from the Almighty, how about that one? 

It was enough to get Mayor Blumberg to speak out. How about Obama and Romney? 

Let's hear it guys! 

No to New Voting Machines! Demand paper ballots!

Comment on T&G article In Worcester, ballot counting a slow process  By Nick Kotsopoulos,

Beware new ballot machines! And new vote counting machines too!  From what I've been reading practically every voting machine on the market is hackable, most of it has "proprietary software" that the City and State won't even be allowed to look at.  The owners of these companies have been known to brag that they can deliver an election to this or that candidate.  

Even if the owners of these machines are completely honest, trusting our votes to a "black box" owned by a private corporation and trusting them to tell us how we voted seriously undermines the appearance of fairness and public trust.

To me that's the Gold Standard is hand-counted paper ballots.  Most European countries by law don't allow anything but hand counted paper ballots, for very good reason. With representatives of each party and the City looking over the shoulder of the officials doing the counting, it can take a while, but I say tough noogies!  Let'em wait for us to count them!  An honest vote count is worth a few more hours of waiting!  

If we do buy new voting machines, the absolute bottom line, one we should be ready to go to the mat for, the City must not even bid on anything with proprietary software which can't be printed out and examined by our own experts. Every detail of exactly what the machine does with our votes and how it does it, and every software update or patch, has to be open book, public record, and fully examined before it is installed and used.  

Any standard lower than this is giving some corporation a license to steal our votes, and paying them good money for it to boot!  

But why bother with all of that?  Why not paper ballots?  They're traceable, they're re-countable, and they don't break down.  When the day comes that the votes from Massachusetts decide a presidential election and the whole country is waiting as we finish our hand count, we can beam with pride as we model for the rest of the nation what an old fashioned honest vote count looks like! 

Why do charges of elitism against Dems stick?

L*** wrote:   "BTW, MSNBC has not lied to us and they were needed desperately to counter part or debunk the lies on Fox.  That is FACT, G***.

I agree, and I personally get a charge out of Rachel Maddow when I happen to see one of her shows, but G*** is right - to a working person, MSNBC and Rachel can seem condescending, snobbish, out of touch with our reality, even insulting. 

We need a different kind of politics. One that comes from the grass roots, that is about people coming together to take back our world, one where how much money or education you have makes no difference, where what you contribute to others and how well you work with others is what matters.  That kind of politics has NEVER been on television.  

As a matter of fact, even msnbc-type politics has never been and still isn't on broadcast network television.  In 1968, the Smothers Brothers took a few steps down that road - and promptly got yanked.  I haven't forgotten that.  

I understand in my gut what moves the Tea Party, and except for some of their right wing Republican leaders I've always felt comfortable walking into a Tea Party crowd and talking.  But the independence of the Tea Party is a dangerous illusion - their agenda is paid for by billionaires and their ideas justify their power.  Their politics would trade a corrupt corporate-ruled government for the naked rule of the corporations. 

And I understand how Dem politicians can get painted as the enemy of regular people and how for some folk it could stick - not fully leveling with us, taking their plays from the DNC and the centrist advisors the Dems hired for them, and it shows.   

Politicians who come closer to the truth about our situation, who actually try to represent our real interests within limits, can sometimes be more painful to hear.  Their failure to be fully on our side, to be fully one with us, to cut loose their ties to the corporations and the world of executives, administrators, donors and experts who presume to know better than we do what we need, can feel like a betrayal.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lincoln and the two-party system

Reply to comment in T&G on Spielberg's new film on Lincoln:


Agreed, we need another Lincoln. Or another Roosevelt. Neither man however emerged from the strength of their own characters. Both were in fact shaped by the tigers they were riding.

As in our own time, the 1850's saw the failure of a set of election rules that locked in a two-party system - Whigs and Democrats - two alliances of contesting forces. Then as now, those who operated outside the two main parties were seen as spoilers, voices in the wilderness.  In the 1840's and early '50's, small anti-slavery parties apparently were going nowhere.

Lincoln's election came about with the shattering of the two-party system, climaxing in 1860 with a four-way race which Lincoln won with less than 40% of the popular vote.  The two parties had proven unable to contain the issue of slavery - or rather the rivalry between the slaveowners who ruled the Southern States and the rest of the nation.

Unfortunately that breakup led to a civil war of breathtaking savagery. One shudders to think how it might have ended if fought with today's weapons!

The crisis of the two party system today is rooted in the decisive influence over both parties - at the national level at least - of the giant international banks and corporations and their owners, hell-bent on control of the planet in pursuit of ever larger profits. Those who challenge this power from within one of the parties must unite with the corporatist leadership to win elections, but risk being discredited in the eyes of regular people for that. Any effort to challenge the corporate powers from outside the two parties gets marginalized by the dynamics of the system - and corporate control of the media.

The events of the 1850's, like those of the 1930's, were driven by the beliefs and actions of regular people bursting through the constraints of the political system.  As that pressure keeps building, containing it grows ever harder.

How events unfolded in Lincoln's time is well worth studying for the lessons it may hold.