Sunday, September 30, 2012
Two Thumbs Down For Our Broken System
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
(excerpt from chapter 6 of, "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome")
Is it any wonder that people are exploding in frustration? A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years. The seven findings are from Gallup's annual Governance survey, updated Sept. 8-11, 2011. The same poll shows record or near-record criticism of Congress, elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars.
 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
 Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.
 At 43%, fewer Americans today than at any time in the past four decades say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems. That is significantly lower than the 58% average level of confidence Gallup has found on this since 1972, including a 77% reading shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Along with Americans' record-low confidence in the federal government on domestic policy, Gallup finds record skepticism about government waste. As previously reported, Americans, on average, think the federal government in Washington wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, the highest estimated proportion of waste Gallup has found on this measure in trends dating to 1979.
Americans' sense that the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals' rights and freedoms is also at a new high, 49%, since Gallup began asking the question using this wording in 2003. This view is much more pronounced among Republicans (61%) and independents (57%) than among Democrats (28%). But there are more fundamental reasons – reasons that hit way too close to home – why many Americans today feel threatened by their government, by the possible loss of jobs or homes, and most of all they fear getting sick or injured, which for many people would mean personal bankruptcy. But the most visceral fear that people have in these very tough times is the loss of their ability to sustain themselves, and especially their kids. I have first-hand experience in this regard, as do millions of others.
Psychological oppression – manifested by widespread apathy and resignation in the face of major corporate and government attacks on working Americans – is at an all time high in the US. Historically, it's often a strong and sustained youth rebellion that enables a society to throw off severe psychological oppression. The following is a breakdown of the forces I see favoring and countering the formation of an uprising in the US that will be led by its youth:
 35% of the US population is under 25.
 Total unemployment among age 16-25: 24-25%, with many facing permanent unemployment.
 Percent of non-white unemployed youth: 46%
 Unemployment among African Americans under 25: 40.7%
 Unemployment among Hispanic Americans under 25: 35%
 Highest rate of imprisonment (which disproportionately targets youth and minorities) in the industrialized world.
 Widespread availability of illicit drugs to dampen youth resentment and anger, especially in minority communities. Ever since the opium wars in China, addictive drugs have been a favorite weapon of the British and American elite to suppress resistance movements. The late Gary Webb and others who have studied CIA involvement in narcotics trafficking have documented disproportionate targeting of minority neighborhoods with both heroin and crack cocaine. This is no accident.
Clinical psychologist and social commentator Dr Bruce Levine recently published an article on the Web about American societal institutions that tend to crush young people's natural spirit of resistance. The institutions Levine highlights as inducing compliance, as opposed to rebellion, include student-loan debt, the uniquely American tendency to medicate non-compliant and rebellious children and teens, American schools that educate for compliance rather than democracy, normalization and fear of surveillance, the "three screens" (TV, computers and cellphones), and so-called "fundamentalist" consumerism (the completely ridiculous belief that all human needs can be met by buying something).
No one disputes that teen homelessness is both the strongest and most alarming symptom of the disintegration of US society. Homeless children and teenagers under 18 represent one-third of the US homeless population. 2.8 million American children have at least one episode of homelessness every year, while 1.35 million American children are permanently homeless. Approximately ten percent of homeless teens had access to state and city-run shelters prior to the 2008 economic collapse. However, owing to extreme state and city budgetary difficulties, most have been forced to close. In third world countries, homeless children are called "street kids." The US government prefers to call them "unaccompanied minors." Giving it a fancy name doesn't hide the fact that the rate of homeless American children per capita is worse than in some third world countries. Today's homeless kids will grow up to be America's infuriated adults. Infuriated adults invariably strike back at that which enrages them. It happens 200% of the time.
Among countries who keep a count of homeless children under 18, India has the highest rate of street children per capita, with 1 homeless child per 61 residents. Egypt is next with 1 per 110, then Pakistan (1 per 120), Kenya (1 per 133), Russia (1 per 141), and Congo (1 per 148). The per capita rate of child homelessness in the US is 1 per 245 residents. This is worse than the Philippines (1 per 360), Honduras (1 per 370), Jamaica (1 per 419), Uruguay (1 per 1,000), and Morocco (1 per 1066). Germany, in contrast, has 1 homeless child per 4,100 residents.
The understandable rage that many of these kids are harboring is exactly what happens when all hope of any economic opportunity is taken away from any nation's youth. This is precisely what happened in Britain in the summer of 2011. Speculations circle as to why the 2011 London riots became so big, but the answer was quite obvious as the disorder spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who one day were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain's inner cities to go home. The violence on the streets was being dismissed as "pure criminality", as the work of a "violent minority", as "opportunism". This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest that has been a long time coming. Angry young people with nothing to do and nothing to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. It will happen in America next. It's already started with the mobilization of the Occupy and 99% Movements.
Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about US civil unrest have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school and work. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalized and harassed by the police, after years of not seeing any conceivable hope of a better future buried under a pile of student loan debt, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything: "Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you”?
Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out. Structural inequalities are not solved by a few pool tables or basketball courts. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realize that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like wildfire after a lightning strike.
Here in the US, we have so far had the advent of the Occupy Wall St. and the “We Are The 99%” movements on the American political scene since the fall of 2011. The primary difference between the protest movement in the US and those overseas – such as North Africa, Syria, Yemen and Nigeria as of this writing – is that the American protests have all been peaceful and nonviolent. However, I have observed a growing groundswell and a developing cultural backlash here in America regarding the choices for President that the American voters will have in 2012. As of now, voters have a choice of Barack Obama, someone who once promised me “change you can believe in” only to give me “change that scares the hell out of me”, or Mitt Romney, which scares me even worse because of their insistence on mixing religion and politics (which is, speaking as a minister of the Gospel, unconstitutional and unlawful). This could be seen by American voters as little more than having to pick the most necessary evil or nothing at all, and that could enrage the American people enough for an explosion of civil disobedience that could easily result in massive rioting. Either that, or a sudden surge in the price of fuel to, say, $5.00 - $7.00 per gallon for whatever reason, would likely turn the American people into a raging inferno that would burn the capitalist, profit-driven and intentionally rigged economic system to the ground.
Although up until now the American people have shown admirable restraint during these difficult times in which we live, this time the public anger will not be deflected. Confessions, not false, will be extracted from the guilty parties. Occupy Wall Street has set the snowball rolling. In so doing it has made America aware of a sinister, usurious process by which wealth has systematically been funneled into fewer and fewer hands, and it is a process in which Washington is playing a useful supporting role.
Over the next year, I expect the “what” will give way to the “how” in the broad electorate’s comprehension of the financial situation. The 99 percent must learn to differentiate the bloodsuckers and rent-extractors from those in the 1 percent who make the world a better, more just place to live. Once people realize how Wall Street made its huge pile of cash, understand how financiers get rich, and what it is that they actually do, the time will become ripe for someone to gather the spreading ripples of anger and perplexity into a focused tsunami of retribution, and to make the Wall Street criminals pay, properly, for the grief and woe they have caused. The truth that is written throughout this book is a part of that same tsunami, focusing the rage and frustration of the US middle and working classes, and particularly that of the poor, into an expression of how we feel, what we need (not our wants, just mainly our needs), what our hopes and dreams are, and above all recognition of our value as dynamic and sovereign individuals, all of whom can contribute to the greater good, and to our belief in the sacredness of life.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
The US Economy is Terminally Ill
excerpt from, "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome"
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Another area of horrifying ineptitude being orchestrated by the US government, or more accurately “Fannie Mae” and “Freddy Mac” who regulate the home mortgage industry, is that of the current and ongoing foreclosure crisis. By now everybody knows all too well about how people are being thrown out of their homes due to some very shady practices perpetrated by real estate companies, mortgage lenders and brokers, and especially the big banks. As I wrote in my previous book, in over half the foreclosure cases being heard in court the lending institutions can't prove that they are the mortgage holders because they can't produce any proof of ownership. The financial industry, and Fannie Mae in particular, took back many of these homes from their owners illegally, and the American public has figured it out and they are very pissed off about it, and rightfully so. But it gets even worse than that. The banks and other lenders, led by an arm of the Federal Government, were so greedy in repossessing all those hundreds of thousands of houses that they forgot to take into account the upkeep costs associated with holding on to these properties. As a result, they got a lot more than they bargained for. Such is the case for mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which as of March 31, 2012 had a mind-boggling 153,000 foreclosed homes on its books. One example — mowing the lawn. Fannie Mae owns this home, so it's paying a lawn crew to come every few weeks or so to keep up the curb appeal. Fannie Mae officials won't say how many lawns it's paying to maintain, so I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations myself.
Say only half of the homes have lawns, a conservative estimate, that's still more than 75,000 lawns.
X 6 (a six-month grass-clipping season)
X 2 (mowing twice a month)
X $40 (a reasonable guess at how much it costs to mow a lawn)
= $36.7 million
Again, this is a very rough estimate, but that's a whole lot of money to spend on lawn care. Fannie Mae's tab from U.S. taxpayers is up to $86 billion since September 2008 when it was taken into government ownership. In just the first quarter of this year, Fannie racked up $488 million in foreclosure-related expenses, including holding costs (insurance, taxes and maintenance); valuation adjustments for changes in market value; gains/loss when the property is sold; legal fees; eviction costs; weatherization costs to prevent the pipes from bursting; costs to secure the property; and repair costs.
And in the meantime, what happens to all the dispossessed people who have lost their homes? For the lucky ones who still have their jobs, it's not so bad. They can just go and rent another home, although in that case I think it would be wise to move as close to your job as you can – you'll save a lot of time and money that way. But what about all the rest of these unfortunate individuals whose entire world has been destroyed by long-term unemployment and the loss of their homes, their savings, and in many cases even their transportation? For example, the homeless population in New York City has risen to never before seen levels, according to a recent report published by the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless. A staggering 113,552 people slept in the city emergency shelters last year, including over 40,000 children. The total marked an 8 percent increase from the previous year and a 37 percent increase from 2002. The report also highlighted the growing number of families sleeping in shelters at nearly 29,000 families in the system, an increase of over 80 percent from 2002 levels (another record). Also skyrocketing was the number of families who had previously spent some time in the shelters returning for further aid, now approximately half of all those receiving assistance. However, even these numbers in fact drastically underestimate the true scope of the homeless crisis in New York City. According to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, 64 percent of those applying for emergency shelter last year were denied it.
Meanwhile, the rents in New York City are reaching astronomical levels. According to data available from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the “fair market” rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment in New York is $1,359. Housing advocates typically consider affordable rates to be no more than a third of the family income. Thus, a family in New York City must earn at least over $54,000 to find an affordable home. The median household income for renters in the Bronx is barely $30,000 a year. For Brooklyn, it is nearly $35,000. At the same time as this catastrophe for the working class deepens, the abundance for the top 1 percent – who collectively earn more than the bottom 95 percent combined – almost defies belief. Last month saw another record for the largest sale price of a single condominium: $48 million for a unit in the Plaza Hotel Residences overlooking Central Park. Under these conditions, the transfer of wealth from workers to the fabulously wealthy takes on a criminal character.
To summarize the situation that working Americans – and particularly those whose wish to work but are unable to find any – find themselves in, we are living in a world with a fundamentally flawed economic system. Capitalism can best flourish so long as the fuel and energy that it takes to keep it running smoothly can be obtained inexpensively. It also can only thrive when the citizens or participants in the system can earn enough disposable income to buy, swap, trade or barter sufficient resources for a reasonably comfortable existence. When it is at its best, capitalism has been not just a way of survival and not just an economic system but an ideology of profit through the pursuit of personal gain. Unfortunately, there have been several things occur since the dawn of the 21st century that collectively signal the death knell of capitalism, or at least as we have known it.
The first aspect is also the most obvious – consumer spending drives 70% of the US economy. But if American consumers run out of disposable income, which is exactly what is now occurring, the whole US economy grinds to a halt. But Washington already knows this and Congress and the President have found a way to deal with the reality that American consumers are broke. Simply put, if America can't generate an income from and drive our economy without consumer spending, then we'll simply have to find a quick and easy substitute. Don't worry, they already have, and they have accomplished this by converting the USA over to a wartime economy, with profits generated by plunder and military domination overseas since working Americans are tapped out. The end result is plain to see, and that is crushing unemployment that has locked millions of able-bodied and industrious Americans out of the US job market, some of them permanently such as what I experienced when my own IT career ended prematurely a couple of years ago.
The second proof that capitalism is at the end of its life cycle is the end of cheap sources of energy due to the fact that we are past the point of “peak oil”. That is, the developed countries of the world have begun using petroleum resources at a rate that is faster than those resources can be pumped out of the ground. This has ominous implications from the standpoint of North American national security, plus that of Europe (particularly Western Europe and the UK), Israel, western and southern Africa, and the entire Pacific Rim from Japan and South Korea down to Australia. Being one who follows world news very closely, there can be no doubt that opposing sides who also have designs on these petroleum resources would consist of Russia, China, and the Muslim nations in North Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia. If world war three breaks out over this remaining oil, which looks increasingly likely since the developed countries are moving too slowly developing alternative energy sources, much of capitalism's infrastructure will be destroyed. The only way to stop all of this from happening is to convert to green energy for our power needs while converting our cars and trucks to run on natural gas, which America has in abundance, and which burns much cleaner than gasoline. Most importantly, since natural gas is about one third cheaper than gasoline, American car and truck owners would see their fuel expenses drop noticeably, and it is relatively inexpensive to convert a petrol-powered engine to burn natural gas.
The third and final side to this triangle of capitalism's demise I can sum up in one word – disillusioned. After generations of buying new cars, new houses, new clothes, new furniture and accessories for your home, and taking on student loan debt to pay for our educations while paying astronomical medical insurance premiums, people are discovering that all this interest and fees they have been paying for all these years has used up all their funds to the point where many of us are having a hard time getting enough to eat. Suddenly the American people are discovering that they have been paying way too much and have been overcharged for years, often for decades, for almost everything they have ever bought in their entire life. We are outraged, we are indignant, and we are absolutely furious!
But there is much deep beneath the surface here, something that surpasses the mere acquisition of stuff and the shallowness of material pursuits, something that is – well – spiritual in nature. Disillusionment, the word I used above to describe the 99%, is running rampant. People feel cut off from having any economic opportunity, and as a result they feel unwanted, abandoned and disenfranchised. But in the process I think that the 99% have collectively become disenchanted with their profit-and-debt driven economic system that they have been stuck living with all their lives, blaming it for their descent into poverty, and consequently the majority of folks have arrived at the same conclusion: People matter more than goods, community cohesiveness matters more than the individual, and cooperative achievement matters more than personal accomplishment. In the process, people are out-growing their need for personal gain and their desire for material goods. Materialism is dying and it is being replaced with its opposite – minimalism, the way of living that says getting by with less is better. And if mankind's habit of always seeking “more” is broken, a profit-and-debt driven economic system cannot survive. If cooperation can replace competition between people, profits can much more easily be shared by all.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
How “Occupy” Is Evolving
(excerpt from, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome”, by Paul J. Bern)
There can be no doubt that working Americans from all kinds of backgrounds are becoming increasingly desperate about their economic situations and their future prospects. Is it any wonder that this is happening? Everywhere we look we see jobs disappearing by the millions, homes being stolen right out from under the owners through fraudulent loan and foreclosure practices, pension and retirement funds being wiped out by highly speculative investments of dubious origin by compulsive gamblers posing as financial advisers and stockbrokers, and the hijacking of our democracy through corporate “campaign donations” and “lobbying fees” that are little more than legalized bribery. Most alarming of all for the overwhelming majority of us is the increasing lack of access to preventative health care and to higher education. I experienced this myself a number of years ago when I wanted to change careers, only to be told that I couldn't get a student loan because my credit score was too low. If I wanted to go back to school and learn a new trade, they said, I would have to pay the tuition out of pocket. Since I was working as a temp at the time there was no way for me to come up with the tuition to pay for my retraining, and so I remained stuck in my situation, unable to improve myself even though I very much wanted to do so. What I have since learned is that what I went through when I tried to change careers to alleviate long-term unemployment is very commonplace, especially for older workers. By now, multitudes of unemployed Americans who want retraining can't get it for the same reasons that held me back, and nearly everybody else has figured out that they too are stuck as far as their professional lives are concerned. Like myself, they are furious at being backed into a corner by the system, and they're looking for ways to fight their way out of that corner.
To sum up our situation as America's work force, we're mad as hell – livid, actually – and we have collectively decided to take back from the top 1% what they took from us since what was taken was ours to begin with. As things stand today, the elites who comprise the top 1%, and particularly the top tenth of a percent, are in very serious trouble indeed. From a political and social standpoint, I vigorously maintain that time has run out for the reign of the rich and powerful. Even now the elites continue to puzzle over what people want. Where is the list of demands? Why don't they present us with specific goals? Why can't they articulate an agenda? The goal can be articulated in one word – rebellion. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and exercise power. They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices, and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the plutarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an effort to take our country back as best as it can be peacefully accomplished.
This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and full throttle capitalism are natural law which is some kind of permanent and eternal state of being that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that our rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until ownership of entire corporations is transferred from the stockholders and boards of directors directly to the workers where it belongs. It will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our “black sites”. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt for life just to obtain higher education, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in serious trouble. That's also why the reason for existence of the entire capitalist, debt-based economy is now falling into question. And that is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don't understand what is happening.
The occupation of Wall Street, and the Occupy encampments elsewhere such as at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. in which I took part, has formed an alternative community that defies the profit-driven hierarchical structures of corporate capitalism. Even though the police have shut down the encampments in New York and elsewhere, the power elite will still lose their grip on society because this vision and structure have been imprinted into the minds of thousands of protesters. The greatest gift the “occupation” has given us is a blueprint for how to fight back. And this blueprint has now been transferred to cities, parks and families facing foreclosure across the country.
The tactic of physical occupation in the case of Occupy Wall Street has been enormously successful already. We have, at least for a moment, proven that we can and will bring enormous public pressure on the top 1% in the form of these movements. We are significantly better positioned than before to make bold demands, as we can now credibly claim that our values are popular – even that they are common sense – and connected to a social base. “Occupy Wall Street” is the tactic that has launched a movement for social justice and real democracy onto center stage. It has served as the initial catalyzing symbol for what undoubtedly will become a rejuvenated civil rights movement. Hopefully ten years from now, when we look back at all we’ve accomplished together, Occupy Wall Street will be considered a critical moment that helped to spark and then build a lasting movement. “We are the 99%” has become a core message of this burgeoning movement. It emerged in tandem with the deployment of the captivating tactic of occupation. The framework of the 99% accomplishes a number of important feats:
 The 99% frames the consolidation of wealth and political power in our society – the central grievance of this movement and a central crisis of our times.
 The 99% frames a class struggle in a way that puts the 1% on the defensive, whereas the common accusation of “class warfare” has somehow tended to put a lot of people in the middle on the defensive.
 The 99% casts an extraordinarily broad net for those invited to join the movement. Most everyone is encouraged to see their hopes and dreams tied to a much bigger public issue. Thus it frames a nearly limitless growth trajectory for the movement.
 The 99% even leaves room for the 1% to redeem itself. There are many striking cases of “1%-'ers” speaking out as defectors – such as former or current military and law enforcement personnel – who are as vocal as anyone that the system is broken and in dire need of replacement.
The 99% meme is a real winner. It points the way toward a necessary expansion that is ongoing as I write this. It encourages us to not just act on behalf of, but alongside of, the 99%; to look beyond the forces already in motion, to activate potential energy, to articulate a moral political narrative, and to build up and strengthen our culture. The Wall Street protests must grow and spread across this country because they are the only realistic hope for change remaining for the 99% of Americans falling behind in this permanently broken economy. Sad to say, but democracy in the land of the free and home of the brave simply no longer works as it is currently being administered. Big corporations and the wealthy have hijacked the political system for decades now with their hefty donations to political campaigns and other pet projects. Their contributions guarantee that bought-off politicians pass laws and tax breaks to their benefit. It is no secret, everyone is aware of how the system works, and it must be called for what it is: legalized bribery.
With traditional democratic political methods useless, what recourse do ordinary Americans have left? We are now witnessing the only real avenue left: ordinary citizens taking to the streets and demanding change to the rigged political and economic systems that leaves 99% of us behind. It is only a start, but a vital one. Every day more people are awakening to the stark realization that the political and economic system in this country is stacked against them and getting worse. During the Vietnam era, because they were directly affected, young people took to the streets to protest the war. America's young males were subject to a draft, and the prospect of being shipped off to die in a war they didn't believe in angered them a great deal. And so the war planners wised up and did away with the draft, but look at what has replaced it. America now has perpetual wars for oil, using a "volunteer" military, many of whom have enlisted due to lack of other economic opportunities. Seemingly unaffected by post-Vietnam wars, students and other young people have been politically inactive since the early 1970s.
But that has come to an end, and I think it's about friggin' time, too. Young people are finding few jobs awaiting them when they get out of college (assuming they are fortunate enough to afford the high tuition). They graduate with no income coming in, but years of student loan debt to pay back. Those without a college or high school degree are even worse off. All of them see the sad reality, that the “American Dream” is only for the privileged few. If these demonstrations and protests continue to grow and expand, both here and abroad, the big banks, oil companies, billionaires and politicians will have to pay attention and give some ground. Either that, or face the prospect of violent revolution.
How all this will play out is uncertain as I write this. The road to reversing several decades of unfair and corrupt politics and excessive greed promises to be a rocky and difficult one. Things could get a lot worse before (and if) they get better. But a revolution, preferably a bloodless one such as the Civil Rights, Occupy and 99% Movements, is necessary to restore democracy and economic fairness in America and around the world. With traditional methods of political change proving useless, mass protests, strikes and other public demonstrations are the only realistic strategy left. Which is why the Wall Street occupiers and their brethren across the country (and the world) cannot quit, why they must continue to grow and expand to a point that the powers-that-be realize they must give the rest of their fellow Americans a seat at the decision-making table and at least some semblance of democracy and economic fairness. The occupiers and protestors cannot and will not quit, of that you can be sure. If the protests wither and die, so will what is left of America's hopes and dreams. So we will not let this movement quietly fade away.
On the contrary, we will continue to grow and consolidate in preparation for our next offensive. As we do so, we will continue to remind one another of why we occupy, and why we're not going away. The Occupy Movement and the 99% Movement, together with a host of other related social and political movements of the American people, will continue to get larger and better organized over the rest of 2012 and well into 2013, using primarily the Internet and social media to accomplish their goals.
Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, corporate America with their armies of lobbyists on K Street in Washington, and the military/prison/industrial complex are justifiably afraid of this movement and what it represents. More importantly, they all remember where this movement got its start, which was in North Africa, and then the Middle East, followed by the riots in Britain and Spain last summer, and the Syrian civil war. Now it has arrived on American shores and firmly established a beachhead from which a worldwide movement has been launched that has captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of countless billions. And this movement of the people is only this – that we are sick and tired of working for subsistence wages that amount to economic slavery while the stockholders and the boards of directors of these giant multinational corporations, not to mention all the cash-rich privately held companies, get to control much of America's cash flow while keeping all the profits for themselves. As I wrote in my previous book, “It's steak for them and beans for the rest of us”, and since then the plight of the middle class has continued to slowly get worse just as I predicted it would. All these problems and issues are indicative of a broken system that is beyond fixing. The time has come to replace it all. The only remaining question is, will the American people be able to accomplish this peacefully? That depends completely on how the 1% respond to the peaceful protests, public demonstrations and wildcat strikes of the 99%. If they respond with violence, there will be another American civil war, and the USA will turn into another Syria, Libya or Greece (only 10 times worse). Let's hope the solution can be a peaceful one.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
America's Damaged Workforce
excerpt from , "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome"
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
If we could find a least common denominator for the complaints of the Occupy and 99% Movements, one of the things America is most furious about would be the lack of jobs and the damage it has done to America's workforce. While unemployment is at historically high levels considering the economy is supposed to be in recovery mode, the tragedy of long-term unemployment is especially troublesome. The longer a person remains jobless the more difficult it is to find new work. Many prospective employers often disparage the long-term unemployed for being lazy, having out-of-date skills and not having the confidence to step into a new position. And on top of that some companies including PMG Indiana, Sony Ericsson and retailers nationwide have explicitly barred the unemployed or long-term unemployed from certain job openings, outright telling them in job ads that they need not apply.
With the numbers of long-term unemployed increasing, it may be reasonable to think a great deal of effort is being expended to address the issue. Unfortunately, that is not the case. More time and effort is being spent cutting unemployment benefits than devising job or retraining programs. Why is so little being done for the 6.3 million long-term unemployed? Why have 99-'ers been abandoned by Congress and the White House? They seem more inclined to cut social safety net programs in order to continue tax cuts for the wealthy. There are 2.5 million US households earning more than $250,000 a year as of the end of 2011. These 2.5 million households are given an inordinate amount of congressional and executive branch attention compared to the 6.3 million households experiencing long-term unemployment. Are the families of the wealthy more deserving of taxpayer benefits than the families of the long-term unemployed? The actions of Congress and the executive seem to indicate that is the case.
The Great Recession has cost US workers millions of jobs and those jobs have not come back as quickly as they disappeared, and in many cases those jobs will never return. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “In total, there are 6.9 million fewer jobs today than there were in December 2007.” Seven million jobs vanishing in just four years, the media has failed to present the unemployment problem, with all its associated economically devastating consequences, for what it truly is. There is passing mention of discouraged workers and the underemployed, but the true scale of the jobs crisis isn't given anywhere near enough attention considering the magnitude of the problem. What follows are some unemployment details that mass media under reports or ignores completely.
 The jobs deficit: That is the total number of jobs lost plus jobs that should have been created since the recession began in December 2007. There are 6.9 million fewer jobs [in 2011] than at the start of the Great Recession, but that tells only half the tale of the jobs deficit. There is also the matter of creating jobs to keep up with the increase in workforce population. Those new workers include high school and college graduates, plus immigrants. The number of jobs that need to be created each month to accommodate new entrants into the workforce ranges from 120,000 - 150,000. Adding together the jobs lost since the recession and the new jobs needed for population growth, the total jobs deficit is estimated to be 11.3 million. A massive effort such as a public works program is required to fill that absolutely enormous jobs hole.
 Filling the jobs deficit: According to EPI: “To fill that gap in three years – by mid-2015—while still keeping up with the growth in the working-age population—would require adding around 400,000 jobs every single month. To fill the gap in five years—by mid-2017—would mean adding 280,000 jobs each month.
 There is a monthly BLS report giving an indication of the number of unemployed per job opening, which stands currently at 4.9. The 4.9 unemployed per job opening is limited to the 14 million U3 unemployed (the 9.1 percent). But those aren’t the only unemployed wanting a full-time job. There are the 2.6 million marginally attached workers and 8.8 million underemployed (those who want full-time work, but are working part-time). I’m not going to include the 3.9 million non-unemployed unemployed. When those 11.4 million workers are included with the 14 million U3 unemployed, there are 25.4 million workers and 3.2 million jobs, or 8 unemployed or underemployed workers per job opening. In addition, part-time jobs are included in job openings counts; however, there is no difference between full and part-time positions. It is only determined if the position exists, not which type of position it is. However, it’s important to know how many job openings are part-time, since part-time jobs usually pay less and offer fewer, if any, benefits. Currently there are 139,627,000 employed workers, of which 27,034,000 are part-timers. More than 19 percent of all workers work part-time. If nearly 20 percent of all available job openings are part-time, there are only 2.56 million full-time jobs for 25.4 million unemployed and underemployed who want full-time work, or 10 workers for each available full-time position; more than double the 4.9 workers per job opening touted by most media outlets.
 Marginally attached workers: From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.” Currently 2.6 million workers are considered marginally attached. If they are included in the unemployment rate, that rate increases from 9.1 percent to 10.6 percent.
 The underemployed: The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers). These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. The “real” unemployment rate increases to 16.2 percent when the underemployed and marginally attached workers are considered. There is a point at which the BLS stops considering an unemployed person unemployed. That point is reached when an unemployed person has not look for a job in the previous 12 months. When asked, the BLS replied, “The 3.9 million individuals not in the labor force that you are referring to responded that they wanted a job, but had not looked for a job in the last 12 months. They are not considered unemployed because they had not actively searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.” I recall no mention of these 3.9 million from any mass media outlet. This 3.9 million are the most discouraged of discouraged workers, but if the jobs market was improving, these millions would start to become part of the unemployed once more. If these 3.9 million were added to the “real” unemployment rate (U6) the rate would increase from 16.2 percent to 19 percent. Nearly one in five American workers is either unemployed or underemployed.
 The long-term unemployed: These are the 6 million-plus jobless who have been looking for work for 6 months or more (not including the not-unemployed unemployed). Long-term unemployment receives occasional mass media recognition, but it scratches only the surface. There are subsets of the long-term unemployed that show the depth of the problem more clearly. The 6.0 million long-term unemployed represent 43.1 percent of all unemployed. Of that 6 million, 4.458 million have been jobless for 52 or more weeks and within that group 2.040 million, a record high, have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more (hence the term “99'ers”).
How many unemployed collect unemployment benefits? It may seem reasonable to assume that all 14 million unemployed collect unemployment insurance benefits, but that is not the case. In September 2011 7.17 million unemployed collected benefits, which is only 51 percent of all unemployed. What message can be taken from this list of realistic and discomforting unemployment figures? The bottom line is that unemployment is much, much worse than the 9.1 percent unemployment figure pushed by the media and many lawmakers. Unemployment and jobs creation throughout America are national emergencies demanding focused attention with a wide-ranging and rapid response. This American jobs disaster will not vanish if neglected, but what will vanish are the hopes, dreams and financial well-being of millions of hard-working Americans. And THAT is why we Occupy!
Where are our jobs? That's what everyone wants to know, and our current batch of “leaders” in Washington are either unwilling or incapable of coming up with an intelligent answer. They are trying to articulate what middle America already knows, which is that the jobs that couldn't be outsourced overseas to the third world were rightsized and downsized out of existence. Middle America is unemployed because that is exactly what the top 1% want. They planned it to turn out this way all the long. And so there is nothing wrong with the system as far as the top 1% are concerned. To them, it is working just fine. The salaries formerly paid to all of us from the 99% have been redirected back to the overseas bank accounts of corporate America, and all the former workers have been kicked to the curb. But the top 1% forgot about something in the course of their financial and military conquests. When they put millions of American workers out of work they forgot that consumer spending comprises over two thirds of the US economy. Since few, if any of us, have any extra money to spend these days, when US worker's incomes dry up so will much of the US economy, and the hard times that many are currently experiencing will seem like child's play in another year or two, three at the most. That means that by the middle of this decade we may be looking at the end of capitalism, or at least as we have known it. The warning signs are already all around us.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
The Battle Cry of the American Worker
(excerpt from, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” by Rev. Paul. J. Bern)
When in the course of current events the constituency of the United States finds itself oppressed and hemmed in by that political body which governs us, and when the working people of this great country which I love so much finds itself with its backs against the wall due to circumstances and situations which are beyond our control, it naturally become the patriotic duty of every concerned American to stand up to and to oppose that which suppresses and restricts the God-given freedoms spelled out in our US Constitution, and to draw a line in the sand of civilization that guarantees the health, wealth and prosperity of us all. As peaceful and law-abiding citizens, we have been governed by the rule of law which is summarized in a document that working Americans continue to revere, none other than the Constitution of the United States, in keeping with the time-honored traditions passed down to us by our founding fathers. But lately our sacred Constitution has been bastardized and prostituted not only by those in power within the federal government, but more directly by the armies of corporate lobbyists who have invaded Washington and seized control of our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government for the sole express purpose of engineering a bloodless coup de etat that is being carried out not by bullets but by vast sums of money that are at once immoral, illegal, and a veritable avalanche of green and greedy corruption. The sole express purpose of this financial invasion is to forcibly liquidate the middle and working classes in this great country of ours. This is being done deliberately and with sinister calculation by the wealthiest Americans from Wall Street to a myriad of corporate boardrooms all across America, orchestrated by the unconstitutional Federal Reserve and its minions, for the sole express purpose of focusing and concentrating all available wealth into the kleptomaniac-like hands of the top 1% of wage earners and big business owners all across America. In fact, I further submit and assert that this is all being done at the expense of the US middle and working classes, the result of which is to force an ever-increasing number of working Americans from all walks of life into ever-increasing poverty.
With mass unemployment, a veritable storm of foreclosures, increasingly unaffordable healthcare, and with higher education rapidly becoming further out of reach for the US middle class and particularly for the poor, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the middle class and working people here in the good old USA finds themselves surrounded and besieged by an army of the usurpers of power in our country. As a direct result, more and more working Americans, the people who are the backbone of the US economy, are forced into moving in with friends and family members to stave off what would otherwise be a pandemic outbreak of homelessness and despair. And it's all because people can't find jobs.
In point of fact, the are now more college-educated people living in homeless shelters, under bridges or in their cars – if they are lucky enough to still own a vehicle – than at any other time since the Great Depression of the 1930's. And that is a social injustice and a moral outrage. Indeed, the circumstances and situations that the middle and working classes in the US find themselves in today are a series of gross social injustices that demands a sharply focused and well-coordinated response from the entire populace, a rebuttal and decisive counterattack designed and intended to right, correct and re-balance US political power back into the hands of the overwhelming majority of American citizens to whom it rightfully belongs. There can be no doubt that class warfare has been declared in the US, perpetrated by the wealthy against the middle and working classes, for the sole express purpose of eliminating from society the constitutional majority of working Americans, with the end result being the complete and merciless liquidation of middle and working class wealth, general prosperity, and even our health. This has been accomplished by the largest transfer of wealth in all of human history, and it has been manifested in four different ways.
First, the employment of American workers has been decimated by closing down manufacturing facilities and shipping jobs overseas to the third world for pennies on the dollar. The result of this has been mass unemployment of many millions of American workers, and those jobs in the American manufacturing sector, which was once the world's largest and whose direct result was victory in World War Two, are very likely to never return. One direct effect this has had is the gradual elimination of labor unions in this country, and the US labor movement is now on life support as a result. All the wages of the blue collar sector of the US economy are now redirected into the pockets of the top 1% of the American populace in terms of net wealth, not to mention the benefits and retirement pensions of these same people who made these corporations into the mega-companies that they are today.
Second, the retirement savings of the middle and working classes have been severely compromised or even liquidated altogether by the crooked and devious manipulations of Wall Street bankers, market speculators, hedge fund managers and corporate boards of directors who engineered the largest swindle in human history back in 2008. This criminal act resulted in the US government bailout know as TARP, an $850 billion bank robbery of the US Treasury conceived and carried out by the same Ponzi-schemers who ran the US economy into the ground in the first place. The cost of this bailout has been put on the backs of the middle and working classes, their children and grandchildren, and has generated a federal government budget deficit that has exceeded $14 trillion dollars as I write this, a staggering sum that threatens to bankrupt the country and destroy the formerly good credit rating of the United States.
As a matter of fact, in only one generation our great country that I love so much has been transformed from the world's greatest lender to its greatest borrower, with the majority of this debt being financed by China. One of these days China is going to get tired of lending us money and will at that point call in the debt, which America may not be able to repay, particularly if China refuses to accept US dollars as a form of repayment. If the value of the dollar were to collapse for any reason, that is exactly what would occur. I shudder to think of what would happen next, with China taking large chunks of American collateral to satisfy this crushing debt load. This could even lead to Chinese troops on our western shores in a worst case scenario. The final collapse of the US economy would inevitably follow, descending into another American civil war that will make the current conflicts in Syria and Greece look like a day care center in comparison.
Third, the largest transfer of wealth in human history is being enforced by runaway prices for college and university tuition that are being deliberately engineered by wealthy elitists for the sole express purpose of putting higher education financially out of reach for an increasing majority of the American middle class. And those who do make it into colleges or universities are finding themselves buried under an overwhelming pile of student loans, some of which are so huge that they end up well into six figures, larger even than some home mortgages. These student debt loans are so enormous that an increasing number of graduates find themselves moving back in with their parents, or sharing living quarters with friends and acquaintances, when they finally do graduate. These same hard-working graduates are now increasingly finding that they can't find suitable employment upon graduation, or are winding up in menial jobs that pay so poorly they can't repay their student loans. This ruins their credit ratings, making it even harder for them to find employment. What good is a four-year degree if you wind up flipping hamburgers, selling shoes or digging ditches? Meanwhile, the best jobs, the best educations, and the best incomes are reserved for the wealthy and their families.
Fourth, the largest transfer of wealth in human history is being reinforced by a healthcare system that has become so expensive that over 54 million Americans can no longer afford health insurance. This has left an increasing percentage of working Americans one accident or catastrophic illness away from bankruptcy, and all without remedy. Worse still, the average cost of medical care for US senior citizens from the time they retire until their death is $250,000.00 as of 2012. As more and more US workers find themselves unable to afford health coverage, an increasing number of people are putting off doctor and/or dental visits and not refilling needed prescriptions for purely financial reasons, and the physical and mental health of these hapless individuals slowly erodes away as a direct consequence.
There are tens of millions of formerly middle class people just like me all across the country who find themselves in similar circumstances to varying degrees of severity. Many have not been as fortunate as me. They have lost jobs or entire careers like I have, been forced out into the street due to the epidemic of foreclosures throughout the land, had their cars repossessed leaving them with no way to get to work assuming that they are lucky enough to still have jobs, and are hounded by collection agencies for debts great and small. They have no access to health care except to show up at the local emergency room with no way to pay the bill, putting them even deeper into debt than they already are. They have watched their pensions and their retirement savings evaporate due to market manipulations by unscrupulous “financial managers” who earn obscene bonuses whether they succeed or fail, and all at the expense of their clients. Either that or they have spent their savings during interminably lengthy periods of unemployment after their jobs were downsized or out-sourced overseas to the third world, never to return again.
The same goes for the best health care, the nicest cars and boats and even airplanes, and the best retirement plans. All of this and more are systematically being procured by the top 1% of wage earners in the US at the expense of everybody else. It's steak for them and beans for the rest of us, and the portions for the middle and working classes are getting ever smaller each day. There is no question whatsoever that class warfare has been declared by the rich, powerful and well-connected, and all at the expense of over 99% of the rest of America. I think it's time to fight back, and that is why I began writing about this in 2010. My books and this author are the new voice of dissent in middle America. It is not right-wing nor is it from the left, but rather it is written from from the standpoint of middle America and from the vantage point of the oppressed multitudes who are crying out for relief and rescue from the perilous circumstances and life-threatening situations that working Americans from all walks of life find themselves in.
This book is a wailing civil defense siren ringing out across the land that I love. It is a warning buzzer on the basketball court of life signifying that a new middle class team of endless depth is now taking the court, sending the wealthy and powerful to the showers so that the stench of corruption can be washed from them because they so desperately need it. It is the national anthem of true American patriotism being played before the start of a baseball game signaling that the new expansion team from middle America is about to take the field. This book is an air raid siren sounding out across the land of the rich and powerful as a warning that the middle and working class counterattack is about to commence. (My latest book, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome”, takes up where the first one left off and predicts mass civil unrest in America in 2012 and beyond.)
No more will we stand and stare or sit and grumble about having our houses, jobs, cars, savings, health, higher education and our retirements forcibly taken away wholesale while an ever greater portion of American wealth is concentrated into the hands of a small minority of multimillionaires. It is time for the middle and working classes to put our collective foot down and say”no more”. The time has arrived for us to take back our country by any and all means possible. It is time for political power to be taken out of the hands of corporate America and their invading hordes of lobbyists who would presume to take over our country by means of economic warfare, and to place it back into the hands of “we the people”, the true owners of this great country of ours. And we will do so knowing that history and our founding fathers are on our side, because they left us with a sacred document known as the Constitution of the United States that guarantees us that right. Our free speech and freedom of expression that are guaranteed under the First Amendment, as well as our right to keep and bear arms and to form militias that are guaranteed under the Second Amendment, will not be compromised or trampled upon. We will demonstrate in the streets, we will besiege government buildings, we will bombard our congressmen and women with phone calls and emails, we will form new political parties, we will organize and build labor unions, we will blockade wealthy neighborhoods, we will organize peaceful public events and non-violent sit-ins, we will call general strikes and consumer boycotts, and we will not stop until the balance of power in this country undergoes a paradigm shift back into the hands of hard-working Americans, as well as those who want jobs and can't find them.
We will fight from the highest mountains, from the lowest valleys, from the rooftops of buildings, we will fight in the cities and in the countryside, from the Jersey shore to the beaches of the west coast, and from the Canadian border down south to the border with Mexico. We will not stop until we get our country back, and we shall never surrender. If the government mistakenly labels us as domestic terrorists, which we most certainly are not, then we shall call ourselves freedom fighters and American patriots. We shall fight with non-violent civil disobedience, we shall – so far as it is possible – demonstrate and march peacefully throughout the land, until we get our country restored to us, the workers of America, to whom it rightfully belongs.
Let there be no mistake, America is overdue for mass civil disobedience, and it is ripe for outright revolution. The conditions and circumstances in which the US middle and working classes find ourselves has become intolerable. President John Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful protest impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. Personally, I am a very patient and thoughtful man. I work hard each day to be slow to speak and quick to listen because I know from experience that there is much wisdom to be derived from living my life this way. But by the same token, I am a Christian man whose patience is at its end. Just as surely as Jesus preached against the political and religious establishment of His day, in like manner I will do the same in the present day in order to emulate the man I regard as my personal Savior. So, if you truly care about the deteriorating state of our nation, if you are really concerned about the issues that we are faced with collectively as a people, and if you want to make a stand against social and economic injustice, you owe it to yourself to read these books. It is my sincere hope that, after reading it, you will be inspired to take decisive action against the rich and powerful who are slowly enslaving us all.