Wealth inequality in America worse than you think it is

This video on wealth inequality in the U.S. has gone viral within days, and for good reason. It painstakingly goes through several graphics to get across some basic, staggering facts about who owns America.

The data used in the video is from 2007. Data from 2010 show that it’s getting even worse. There has been a 4% shift in the distribution curve from poorer to wealthier. The top 10% of the population own 77% of wealth (up from 73%), and the bottom 90% own 23% of wealth (down from 27%).

Net worth and financial wealth distribution in the U.S. in 2010 (Source: Wolff, E. N., The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class, New York: New York Univ., 2012)
Net worth and financial wealth distribution in the U.S. in 2010 (Source: E.N. Wolff, The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class, NY: NYU, 2012)

If you want some really in-depth numbers, including the jaw-dropping racial disparities, see this article by G. William Domhoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz. The bottom line: “Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America.”

The video is not only presents the facts so we can “get” them but points out the gap between reality and perception. We get that things are skewed. Yet we so vastly underestimate the extent of wealth inequality that you have to wonder whether the myth of a classless America is so impermeable and right-wing propaganda so relentless, that we simply can’t see what is staring us in the face.

Baltimore to evict Camp 83

Camp_83-2

Several homeless people set up an encampment under an interstate overpass not far from Baltimore’s Housing Resource Center (HRC), the city’s biggest shelter. The city announced that it will evict Camp 83, as it’s known, on Friday, March 8 and arrest those who refuse to leave.

by Rob Brune

I visited Camp 83 for the first time yesterday evening. My old friend Beth from Occupy Baltimore greeted me. Supporters of the camp held signs opposing its eviction on March 8. At rush hour on a Wednesday, cars entering the ramp to I-83 honked in support.

Making my way into the camp, sandwiched between the I-83 ramp and the Baltimore City Central Booking building, I met Liam Dunaway. Liam is a student at a local college who has been researching the various homeless camps in Baltimore. He spoke of unhealthy conditions in the Baltimore Resource Housing Center (HRC) and challenges such as couples being split up. In contrast to the shelter, the homeless camp has provided a safer environment, according to Liam. Watch Liam’s explanation on live-stream.

Two students from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Catherine and Kate, were at the camp talking to a resident, Mellow, and others who were about to be evicted. Both Catherine and Kate are members of a student organization called Housing Our Neighbors. (@HONFORHOUSING)

Camp_83As I was about to leave, a helicopter hovered over the Baltimore Housing Resource Center, and then at least half a dozen Baltimore City Police squad cars pulled up. All the while, it was nice and quiet at Camp 83. It seemed to me like an enormous amount of taxpayer money was directed toward harassing the homeless community instead of serving them.

When I approached the city-run shelter there appeared to be six police officers standing over one cuffed male behind the building. An ambulance approached. The parking lot security officer chased me away before I could ask any questions of the police.

Advocates for the homeless will gather at the encampment, on the west side of the 800 block of the Fallsway (across from Central Booking), at 6:00 am on March 8th to prevent the planned eviction and/or to help move their belongings into housing.

Sins of sequestration: Republicans refuse to end giveaways to corporations and super-rich

Republicans are always for cutting the federal budget, right? Nope, not when it comes to protecting the assets of their super-wealthy friends.

In the sequester battle, here are some of the things they refuse to cut:

  • $10 billion in tax deductions for vacation homes and yachts
  • $168 billion in tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas
  • $3 billion in the “corporate jet loophole”
  • $25 billion in special tax breaks to the largest oil companies

Greg Sargeant of the Washington Post says that “the GOP approach to the sequester is so deeply unserious that no deal looks even remotely possible.”

John Boehner has admitted that he wants to eliminate the deficit in ten years–all without new revenues. That could mean reducing the size of government spending by one-sixth to one-third.

The sequester is a gift to Republicans: starve the beast until it dies. Until we all perish along with it.

Tent of Dreams: A final act of defiance

by John Zangas

It was the final act of defiance by Occupy DC, a group of people who had given their last ounce of effort in protest, their last will in a park occupation–against a system we saw as repressive. In the previous three years, millions of people had lost their homes, and millions more had lost their jobs and savings. Ordinary people climbing the ladder to the American Dream slipped and lost their foothold forever.

Why did we erect the Tent of Dreams? The bankers and stock traders on Wall Street, who nearly destroyed the economy by the summer of 2008, silently slipped under the radar of legal prosecution. Yet occupiers who expressed dissatisfaction with lack of economic opportunity were being arrested by the thousands, merely for exercising their First Amendment right to dissent. What drove us was the fundamental imbalance of power, which was made even more apparent as the Occupy movement unfolded. Occupiers were arrested around the country in an arbitrary enforcement of the law, while financial managers went unpunished, still raking in millions in fraudulent profits.

Four days before we raised the Tent of Dreams, the U.S. Park Police had left official letters on our tents, warning us that we were no longer welcome. We knowingly were breaking a federal statute which forbade sleeping in tents in public parks.

So we created a symbol of a dream–a huge blue tarp painted with falling stars, symbols, and statements of hope. Just before noon on January 30, we used long poles and strung it up over the statue of McPherson, a brass symbol of state power. We encircled it and chanted, “We are the 99 percent!” and defiantly willed the state to come and take it down!

We hunkered down and stayed together under the blue tarp, taking turns on the nightwatch for an imminent police raid. It did not come the first exuberant night, nor did it come on the second or third nights. Guitars played, drums beat, coffee was served. Camaraderie kept us assured that we were doing the right thing. Defiantly we stood together, sleepless sentinels against the inevitable.

Some of us managed to stay up the first night until dawn without sleep under that blue tarp in a “sleep strike.” We persevered for four days and nights before the last of us caved in to exhaustion. By the fifth day, our fear turned into boredom.

Little did we know that the raid police planned for February 4th would change us forever.

Missing the Jack Lew connection: How a Citigroup exec becomes Treasury Secretary

Jack Lew, former COO of Citigroup Alternative Investments, current White House Chief of Staff–and future U.S. Treasury Secretary (Photo AP / J. Scott Applewhite)

Frontline’s most recent program entitled “The Untouchables,” which aired on January 22, outlined how Lanny Breuer, head of the DOJ’s criminal division, and his Deputy were unwilling to prosecute Wall Street bankers in spite of evidence of fraud. Breuer confessed to the New York Bar Association that he was up nights thinking about how his actions potentially may have had tragic ripple effects throughout the economy.

Frontline did a good job in calling out Breuer and the Justice Department. So good that DOJ called “The Untouchables” a “hit piece,” and Lanny Breuer has resigned his position. Still, Frontline failed to point out a vital connection with a key Obama cabinet appointment.

U.S. Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew, the current White House Chief of Staff, used to be in charge of the very Citigroup department that was the subject of a Senate hearing. Frontline documented the Citigroup policy of bank underwriters’ approving mortgages that would eventually go into failure, and even showed Senator Carl Levin questioning the chief underwriter of Citigroup. Levin asked him whether he believed the bank he worked for had been running a scam by intentionally granting housing loans destined to fail while at the same time betting heavily against the housing market.

Of course, it was a scam. It conned many people out of their paychecks, their life savings and their retirements. Ultimately, it crushed the economy. One merely needs to look at the jobs market to see how the economy is devastated beyond repair. And Jack Lew, soon to be Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, played a key role in the mismanagement of risk.

All too often the federal government chooses to address a problem with the very same individuals who played roles in creating the problem. This isn’t the “Hope” and “Change” that Obama voters were expecting when they pledged their support for the President in 2008.

According to an officer outside the Alfalfa Club dinner Saturday night, Metropolitan police have yet to negotiate a contract or receive a pay increase in 7 years. Teachers, healthcare workers or any individual who has a job remotely connected to the government stand to lose their jobs after March 27. Had individuals like Jack Lew not created the economic collapse of 2008, more than likely we would not be facing such harsh cuts.

Like Frontline, mainstream media outlets have dropped the ball as well. Few are making the connection between Jack Lew and his former role at Citigroup (contrast this article on Huffington Post), or pointing out the continuing relationship of the U.S. Treasury with firms which received bailout money, such as Lew’s former employer.

What’s more, the mainstream propaganda machine is hard at work validating President Obama’s choice for Treasury Secretary and whitewashing Jack Lew’s involvement in this fraud. Not only are big bankers going unpunished, in the Obama administration they are being rewarded with cabinet appointments. We need a watchdog media that has the courage to say so.

The 99 Percent Dance Party that trumped “Gala of the One Percent”

The annual Alfalfa Club dinner is an intimate schmooze-fest of politicians and mega-wealthy businessmen. Even the president, with few exceptions, is usually in attendance, unable to resist the temptation of so much money in one room. It’s the ultimate Gala of the One Percent.

Tomorrow evening, January 26, the Alfalfa Club will hold its 100th annual dinner. So today it’s worth remembering Alfalfa Club 2012, because then the One Percent had an unexpected gauntlet to cross–Occupy DC. Undoubtedly its most infamous protest, Occupy DC put on a raucous, no-holds-barred dance-party in the streets for the 99 percent. Nobody will ever forget it.

Photographer Matt Dunn captured the wild evening here.

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Senator Joe Lieberman is none too happy to get glitter-bombed.

Update:

Photos of Alfalfa Club 2013 are here.

DC-area strike supporters meet swift reaction by Walmart

Management at eight Walmart stores in the DC metropolitan area acted quickly to squash leafleting to support striking workers. Activists from a coalition of local organizations visited Walmart stores in Alexandria, Germantown, Laurel, Bowie, Landover and Catonsville on October 10 to pass out fliers and petitions to customers and employees about the retailer’s alleged efforts to intimidate workers who seek improvements. In some instances, Walmart personnel called police to assist them off the property, although none intervened.

On October 9, several Walmart workers in the DC metro area joined the first strike in the behemoth retailer’s history and walked off the job. Citing attempts to “silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job,” the Making Change at Walmart campaign of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) conducted a national Day of Action on October 10 to support the strike.

Eleven employees at the Walmart in Laurel, MD went on strike, and eight of them flew to Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart’s corporate office, to join many others in airing their grievances. Foremost among them is the threat of retaliation for doing what they’re doing now–speaking up.

Striking Walmart employee Barbara Elliott

Barbara Elliott is one of the Laurel strikers. She has worked in customer service at Walmart since 2005, in Virginia and New York locations as well as in Maryland. “A lot of people want to speak out but they’re scared to speak out, they’re in fear of their jobs,” she said. “They know that this is the only job that they have to support their families.”

The flier by OUR Walmart passed out at stores on Wednesday also emphasized strikers’ view that Walmart coerces them into keeping complaints to themselves. “The company is trying to silence and intimidate those who speak out through unfair disciplinary actions, cutbacks in hours and even firings,” it said.

Members of various local groups, including DC Jobs with Justice, United Students Against Sweatshops, Ward Four Thrive and Respect DC, visited area stores and conversed with customers while handing out flyers. Walmart management, however, seemed to be on the lookout for strike supporters and had procedure in place to deal with them. One activist reported seeing a manager call in a “code” then rip flyers out of workers’ hands. Police were on site at the Capital Plaza store in Landover Hills, MD before any strike supporters even arrived. In one Alexandria store, a Walmart employee took passed-out flyers for the purpose of tearing them up.

David Richardson, a retired union worker and participant with DC Jobs with Justice, said, “They’re afraid. Everybody is afraid of the boss. It’s really sad that they’re in that position.”

An assistant manager at the Laurel store declined to comment.

In spite of Walmart management’s hostility toward them, organizer Mike Wilson of DC Jobs with Justice described their Walmart visits as successful. “We were able [to have] some really good conversations,” he said.

Walmart is the world’s largest private employer with 1.4 million employees. It’s known for being aggressively anti-union and gone to great lengths to prevent its workforce from organizing, including a hotline for its managers to call. Only a few hundred workers nationwide have dared to walk out in the recent strike.

Barbara Elliott felt she had to be one of them. “I’m here to represent those who are afraid to speak, to get the respect that we need,” she said.

She cited reductions in employer contributions to 401(k) accounts, under-staffing, loss of merit raises, low wages, and a climate of fear in the work environment. Yet she had words of praise for Walmart founder Sam Walton. “It’s not all bad, it’s just that we need back what was took from us, what Sam wanted us to have from the beginning,” she said. “When he passed they just slowly took it from us, and enough is enough.”

The DC-area strikers plan to return to work October 11.