Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

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The more your job helps people, the less you're paid (and vice-versa)


In this spectacular, long interview with Salon, David "Debt" Graeber builds on his bullshit jobs hypothesis and points out the horror of modern American work: if your job does some good, you are paid less; jobs that actively hurt people are paid more; and no one seems to want a world where no one has to work anymore. But have no fear: it ends on a high note: a proposed "revolt of the caring classes."

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Piketty's methods: parsing wealth inequality data and its critique

I've been writing about Thomas Piketty's magisterial economics bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century for some time now (previously), and have been taking a close interest in criticisms of his work, especially the Financial Times's critique of his methods and his long, detailed response. I freely admit that I lack the stats and economics background to make sense of this highly technical part of the debate, but I think that Wonkblog's analysis looks sound, as does the More or Less play-by-play (MP3).

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Matt Taibbi's The Divide: incandescent indictment of the American justice-gap

Matt Taibbi’s
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
is a scorching, brilliant, incandescent indictment of the widening gap in how American justice treats the rich and the poor. Taibbi’s spectacular financial reporting for Rolling Stone set him out as the best running commentator on the financial crisis and its crimes, and The Divide — beautifully illustrated by Molly Crabapple — shows that at full length, he’s even better. Cory Doctorow reviews The Divide.

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David "Debt" Graeber evicted, implicates NYPD intelligence, claims revenge-harassment for OWS participation

David Graeber, author of Debt: the First 5000 Years, was evicted from the home that his family had lived in for 52 years yesterday. He says that the NYPD intelligence department played a role in establishing a "technicality" on which his family could be evicted, despite not having missed a single payment in 52 years. He blames the eviction on retaliation against high-profile Occupy Wall Street activists, whom he says have been targeted in a wide-ranging series of administrative attacks: "evictions, visa problems, tax audits..."

Abi Sutherland has a great post on this on Making Light:

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Loomio: democratic decision-making tool inspired by Occupy


Here's a good writeup of Loomio, a collective decision-making tool that is raising funds to add features, stability and polish to its free/open source codebase. Loomio grew out of the experience of Occupy's attempt to create inclusive, democratic processes, and attempt to simplify the Liquid Feedback tool widely used by Pirate Parties to resolve complex policy questions.

I'm very interested in this kind of collective action tool -- I wrote about a fictionalized version in Lawful Interception that allowed crowds of people to coordinate their movement without leaders or hierarchy -- and Loomio seems to have a good mix of political savvy, technical knowhow, and design sense.

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Why the hyper-rich turn into crybabies when "one percent" is invoked

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a letter by Tom Perkins (the "Perkins" in the venture capital firm "Kleiner Perkins") in which he compared rhetoric about the unjust riches of the "1 percent" to the events of Kristallnacht, the overture to the Holocaust. In a terrific editorial, Josh Marshall explains why the hyper-rich turn into such crybabies when it's pointed out that they've gamed the system so that they grow richer and richer while everyone else gets poorer:

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Ukraine government sends text to protesters: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance"


Ukraine's dictatorship is revelling in its new, self-appointed dictatorial powers. The million-plus participants in the latest round of protests received a text-message from the government reading Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.

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Oxfam: 85 richest humans own more than all assets held by half the human race


A new Oxfam report entitled Working for the Few (PDF), documents a "power grab" by the world's wealthy super-elite, who have amassed astonishing assets while the rest of the world grew poorer. Not only do the top 1% of the world's richest own 65 times more than the world's poorest 50%, but the 85 richest people own more than half the world. Oxfam is clear that this wealth expansion at the top is the result of a horribly corrupt political process by which elected representatives end up making policies to enrich the already-wealthy.

They're at Davos this week, asking the world's elites to pledge support for progressive taxation; an end to tax-avoidance; an end to financial corruption of legislation and policy; transparency in their own fortunes; universal healthcare, education and social protection; and a living wage for all.

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OccupyMLA: the true tale

Mark Marino writes, "At the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston, I revealed that I and my writing partner Rob Wittig created the fictional protest movement OccupyMLA. What started out as a single Twitter account evolved into an elaborate fiction about a hapless trio of adjuncts, trying to fight for their place in the academy. Often fighting just as much against one another, the members of Occupy MLA struggled to reach the very bottom rungs of the academic ladder in a professional ecology that has stratified the administration, the tenured, and the adjuncts, with a chasm between each domain."

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UC Davis's Officer Pepper Spray gets a $38K payout for mental trauma of being hated by the entire world


Mark wrote in July that Lt John Pike, the UC Davis cop who attained notoriety after he sadistically hosed down seated, peaceful protesters with pepper spray, jetting it directly down their throats and into their eyes, had applied for worker's comp for the psychiatric injuries resulting from everyone in the world thinking he was a horrible, horrible person.

Now he has been awarded $38K by California's Division of Workers' Compensation Appeals Board. He left his job (which paid nearly $120K), and has had to change addresses and phone numbers several times to dodge harassment from his detractors. Davis settled a lawsuit by the protesters he sprayed for $1M.

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Chinese artist's movie about Bay Area Occupy

James sez, "Chinese artist Li Chen embedded with the Bay Area Occupy movement and created this beautiful film that's also about the frailty of memory and language. 'I was there because I had never witnessed a protest before in my life,' she says in her artist's statement. "As a Chinese citizen, I spent many sleepless nights with hundreds of American protesters." The film is one of eight entries in Love of Sun, an online exhibit curated by Rachel Kennedy depicting California artists' visions of China -- and Chinese artists' visions of California."

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Ten arrests in 87 minutes: How NYPD dispersed peaceful Occupy Wall Street protests

A short film by Paul Sullivan that chillingly breaks down the creepy tactics New York City police used to intimidate and harass protesters, and arrest them for expressing their first amendment rights in public space. In these examples, it seems they used "the momentum of arrests" to deter the spirit of the crowd--not because the individuals shown here actually posed a threat to the public, or had harmed anyone or done anything bad.

[via Sparrow Media, HT: Glen E. Friedman]

Jello Biafra talks Occupy, music, and Obama

In a great interview with the Guardian, former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra talks about Occupy, Obama, his break with the rest of the Kennedys, and his current band, Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine (whose existence I'd somehow missed!).

It's depressing how conservative people can be despite supposedly belonging to a supposedly alternative subculture.

Any alternative culture that inspires a lot of passion and inspiration is also in danger of being set in its ways, almost from the moment it's born. That even included the Occupy movement in some ways. It was discussed whether or not to participate in the electoral side of the system at all, which I thought was a good idea. Why not run people for offices and knock off some of the tired old corporate puppets in the primaries, like those lovely people in the Tea Party have done with the Republicans? But other people chose not to do that.

You've been involved with the Occupy movement. (2) The initial media storm around it seems to have died down …

I think that anyone who declared that Occupy was a failure was very much mistaken. I knew it would have a ripple effect, like throwing a big piece of concrete into a lake and just watching the waves ripple. In a way, Obama owes Occupy big time for saving his ass in the 2012 election. Occupy brought the issue of inequality and Grand Theft Austerity, as I call it, right to the forefront.

Jello Biafra: 'Obama owes Occupy big time' (via MeFi)

How the global hyper-rich have turned central London into a lights-out ghost-town

In an excellent NYT story, Sarah Lyall reports on "lights-out London" -- the phenomenon whereby ultra-wealthy foreigners (often from corrupt plutocracies like Kazakhstan and Russia) are buying up whole neighbourhoods in London, driving up house-prices beyond the reach of locals, and then treating their houses as holiday homes. They stay for a couple weeks once or twice a year, leaving whole neighbourhoods vacant and shuttered through most of the year, which kills the local businesses and turns central London into something of a ghost town.

“Some of the richest people in the world are buying property here as an investment,” [Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour opposition in Westminster Council] said. “They may live here for a fortnight in the summer, but for the rest of the year they’re contributing nothing to the local economy. The specter of new buildings where there are no lights on is a real problem...”

Meanwhile, prices are rising beyond expectation. For single-family housing in the prime areas of London, British buyers spend an average of $2.25 million, Ms. Barnes said, while foreign buyers spend an average of $3.75 million, which increases to $7.5 million if they are from Russia or the Middle East...

The most visible, and also the most notorious, of the new developments is One Hyde Park, a $1.7 billion apartment building of stratospheric opulence on a prime corner in Knightsbridge, near Harvey Nichols, the park and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which functions as a 24-hour concierge service for residents. Apartments there have been purchased mostly by foreign buyers who hide their identities behind murky offshore companies registered to tax havens like the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands.

It is rare to see anyone coming to or going from the complex, and British newspapers have been trying since it opened two years ago to discover who lives there. Vanity Fair reported recently that as far as it could discern after a long trawl through records, the owners seem to include a cast of characters who might have come from a poker game in a James Bond movie: a Russian property magnate, a Nigerian telecommunications tycoon, the richest man in Ukraine, a Kazakh copper billionaire, someone who may or may not be a Kazkh singer and the head of finance for the emirate of Sharjah.

A Slice of London So Exclusive Even the Owners Are Visitors [NYT/Sarah Lyall]

(via Beyond the Beyond)