Sunday, October 30, 2011

Student loan debts crush an entire generation / By Alex Pareene Salon

Student loan debts crush an entire generation

Updated: Hyped like subprime mortgages, school loans now run to hundreds of billions with no relief in sight

OWS debt
[UPDATED] USA Today says that at some point this year, student loan debt will exceed $1 trillion, surpassing even credit card debt. Felix Salmon says the number is closer to $550 billion. Either way total student loan debt is rising as other debts have tailed off. Delinquency has increased, too, since the height of the financial crisis.
It’s a huge mess.
Some people have noticed that “student loan debt” comes up a lot among the Wall Street Occupiers and the members of the 99 percent movement. Often, older people, who either attended school when tuition was reasonable, or who didn’t attend college at all in an era when a high school diploma was enough of a qualification for a stable, middle-class career, tend to think this is all the entitled whining of spoiled kids. They don’t understand that these kids accepted a home mortgage worth of debt before they ever even had a regular income, based on phony promises, and that the debt is inescapable, regardless of life circumstances or ability to pay.
Alex Pareene
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene More Alex Pareene

FAW Foundation Report: The Right to Vote Under Attack / Common Dreams

PFAW Foundation Report: The Right to Vote Under Attack

“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
-- Paul Weyrich, “founding father of the modern conservative movement,”1980
A new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by People For the American Way Foundation reveals how the Right Wing distorts and exaggerates the impact of improper voting in order to implement policies that keep millions of eligible Americans from casting votes. The report, “The Right to Vote Under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box,” is available here.
“Laws proposed to address the mythical problem of ‘voter fraud’ undermine the very foundation of our democracy,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “The Right Wing, with no evidence, has propagated the myth of widespread voter fraud as an excuse to create laws that are all about making it harder for people vote. Their clear target is driving down Democratic turnout and installing in office people who will do the bidding of the Right Wing and their Republican allies. Stealing elections by systematically disenfranchising millions of voters is as unpatriotic as it gets.”
The report uncovers:
  • The extreme rarity of fraudulent voting and its negligible impact on even the closest elections
  • The partisan agenda behind anti-voter fraud laws
  • The vote-suppressing strategies employed by states, including photo-ID requirements and restricting DMV hours in Democratic-leaning jurisdictions
  • The secretive forces that fund and draft vote-suppressing legislation
“This report reveals just how the far the Right Wing is willing to go to win elections,” continued Keegan. “Eroding the achievements of the Civil Rights movement by disenfranchising voters is abhorrent. All Americans have a fundamental right to vote, and we need to be vigilant to make sure that ever eligible voter is ready and able to vote on Election Day.”
The report is available here.

Michigan Unions and Poor Face 85 Hostile Laws / by Evan Rohan / Common Dreams

Michigan Unions and Poor Face 85 Hostile Laws

by Evan Rohan
An “emergency manager” bill allowing a state-appointed executive to unilaterally fire city councils and school boards and cancel union contracts has drawn the ire of Michigan’s labor movement for months. Resistance to the measure, including rallies of a few thousand and a promising repeal effort, have united elements of the state’s labor movement.
Michiganders collect petitions against Governor Rick Snyder and some of the many anti-worker laws the legislature is pushing forward. (Photo: Jim West.) The emergency manager law is just the beginning, however. Eighty-five bills now under consideration start from the view that Michigan’s economic problems are the fault of public employees and the poor, rather than driven by a merciless recession and the auto industry’s contraction.


While teachers relaxed over the summer, legislators attacked their tenure and seniority. School boards can now fire teachers for any reason during the first five years of employment. Districts have the power to fire tenured teachers for any reason, not only for “just cause.” Administrators also gained discretion over teacher layoffs and placement, based not on seniority but on “effectiveness.”
Another bill, introduced in October, would make dues checkoff illegal for teacher unions with more than 50,000 members, which means the Michigan Education Association.
MEA drew criticism from lawmakers in April for asking local affiliates whether enough support existed for a strike.
Public employees who use work email for union or political business are threatened with a thousand-dollar fine and a year in prison, under a bill moving through committees. Its author says the law would be enforced by workers reporting on each other.
A school privatization package would rescind the cap on charter schools. Another bill would take away domestic partner benefits for public employees, including those in union contracts.
Unions have staged several rallies, but look to Democrats to stem the tide.
The MEA issued a commercial and website titled “Stand up for kids, not CEOs,” that resembles a 2012 election ad. “It’s time we teach these Republican politicians a lesson,” declares the ad. Seven Democrats, however, voted for the provision facilitating teacher layoffs.
Attacks on workers and the poor go further than legislation. Michigan’s civil service has shrunk by 11,000 employees since 2001, and more devastating cuts to the social safety net are on the way.
Eleven thousand Michigan families will soon be cut off cash assistance, and a recent court ruling jeopardized heating subsidies for low-income households, just in time for winter.
A privatization effort in Grand Rapids has drawn scrutiny from veterans and public employee unions. Hundreds of workers at a state-run veterans’ home are being replaced by underpaid, undertrained contractors. Reports of incompetence and maltreatment are rolling in, and court hearings are scheduled.
Meanwhile, the emergency managers, appointed by the state to run cities and school districts operating in the red, continue to wreak havoc. In Ecorse, near Detroit, the manager forced 60 percent of firefighters to part-time schedules. They lost benefits and nearly half their pay with one day’s notice.
While two ambulances sat in the firehouse collecting dust, an emergency medical contractor took over.
Members of Firefighters Local 684 described an excruciating wait at the scene of a head injury, hearing the siren of the contractor’s ambulance as it searched up and down nearby streets for the location.
“They were holding the guy’s head together with a towel,” said President Scott Douglas. The contractor took more than 20 minutes to arrive. “I still don’t know if the guy made it.”


There are signs of progress.
“We’re able to pull together in ways that we haven’t seen in a non-election year,” said Greg Bowens, AFSCME Council 25 spokesperson. Public employee unions entered joint negotiations with the state for the first time.
Community organizations and unions have come together to gather signatures for a fall 2012 referendum on repealing the emergency manager law.
Clergy in Detroit are organizing, too, holding three marches at the governor’s Detroit office ahead of October 1, when the new budget went into effect.
Pastor David Bullock of the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park is pulling together an anti-poverty summit. Bullock intends to go beyond lobbying to bring lessons from the civil rights movement to the 21st century.
“We lost the point of protesting,” Bullock said. “It’s to disrupt power centers and to challenge them directly.”

Liberals Get 'Déjà Vu' and Complain Dems Have Bungled in Debt Talkby Mike Lillis s / Common Dreams

Liberals Get 'Déjà Vu' and Complain Dems Have Bungled in Debt Talks

Déjà vu

by Mike Lillis
Liberals on and off Capitol Hill agonized Thursday that supercommittee Democrats had bungled early negotiations over a budget deal and put their party in a position to be bested again by Republicans.
The twelve members of the Congressional Super Committee, six Democrats and six Republicans, gather for opening remarks as the panel holds its inaugural meeting to search for new deficit reductions, in Washington, DC, September 8, 2011. (Credit: Reuters/Mike Theiler) By proposing significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as an early offering, liberals said the panel Democrats weakened their party’s negotiating position as Republicans, who have ceded no ground on their central anti-tax message, sat back and watched.
"My fear is that this is déjà vu all over again,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), one of the dozens of liberals who thought the White House cornered itself in the summer debt-ceiling talks by floating similar entitlement cuts to the GOP in negotiations led by Vice President Biden.
“This is essentially what happened in the Biden talks,” Welch said. “The Democrats were putting concrete proposals on the table [including entitlement cuts] and the Republicans never came forward with concrete revenues to match it.
“The Democratic side was negotiating against itself,” Welch added. “As a strategy, that won’t work.”
While some Democrats said their deficit package is evidence that they’re the more serious negotiators, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shrugged it off and remarked it was “time for everybody to get serious” about the talks.
In a memo highlighting the Republicans’ blanket opposition to new tax hikes, Boehner’s office said the Democrats’ plan is “not a serious proposal.”
“Republicans have been willing to discuss new revenues, but this offer is rooted in unacceptable tax increases, which would have a negative impact on the economy and jobs,” the memo reads.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee ( PCCC), a liberal activist group, echoed Welch’s message Thursday, saying the Democrats’ early offer to cut Medicare and Medicaid is “just incompetent negotiation strategy.”
“If Democrats on the [supercommittee] are proposing cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or other middle-class benefits, that is fundamentally out of step with what the 99 percent of Americans are crying out for right now,” Green said in an email. “The middle class has sacrificed enough — it’s time for Wall Street and the wealthy to finally pay their fair share, and voters need Democratic politicians to get that.”
A former House Democratic staffer sounded a similar note, saying the Democrats could use a lesson in how to squeeze more of their priorities out of the ongoing bipartisan talks.
“Though the [Democrats] won’t likely bite on Medicare offsets (i.e., bene[fit] cuts) w/out revenue, the cuts are now, nevertheless, out there,” the staffer, who is now a health policy analyst, said in an email. “Someone really should give these guys a primer on negotiating skills!?!”
The liberals are furious with the sweeping $3 trillion deficit-reduction proposal presented Tuesday by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to Republicans on the deficit panel. The plan includes hundreds of billions of dollars in entitlement cuts and more than $1 trillion in new tax hikes — a package along the lines of the “grand bargain” negotiated over the summer by President Obama and Boehner that eventually died in favor of a more modest deal focused on spending cuts.
The proposal offered by Baucus — which was endorsed by a majority of the six Democrats on the deficit panel — features roughly $400 billion in Medicare reductions, including significant cuts to senior benefits. A number of liberal Democrats hammered the proposal this week, warning that benefit cuts under Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are a nonstarter.
“I don’t want to hear Democrats suggesting that we have those types of cuts in Medicare,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday. “I hope that’s not true.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, declined to join those critics on Thursday.
“It’s no use asking me about specific things until we see the whole package,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
The California Democrat reiterated her party’s insistence on a “balanced” deficit-reduction plan, suggesting that she and her caucus won’t support a package that fails to spread the pain of austerity across a class spectrum.
“It’s not fair to say to a senior, ‘You’re going to pay more for Social Security, and we’re not going to touch a hair on the head of the wealthiest people in our country,’ ” Pelosi said.
Democrats also hammered a Republican counteroffer that would cut the deficit by $2.2 trillion over 10 years and generate up to $640 billion in new revenue.
Consistent with the Republicans’ vows not to impose new taxes, the revenues originate from increased user fees and tax-revenue increases the GOP says will accompany an overhaul of the tax code.
Democrats said it focused too heavily on middle-class benefit cuts without balancing them out with tax hikes on the wealthy.
“As reported, Republicans’ stubborn refusal to come forth on real revenues as part of a deficit reduction package threatens any real progress in the Select Committee,” Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “Their unwillingness to ask anything of the very wealthiest even as they propose devastating cuts to Medicare and Social Security is totally unacceptable.”
Yet liberal activists argue that the Democrats’ proposal is little better.
“This plan protects the status quo for the 1 percent while the 99 percent are expected to sacrifice vital healthcare they need to survive,” said Jim Dean, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s brother and the chairman of Democracy for America, a political action committee with 1 million members.
“Democracy for America will oppose any Democrat who votes for a plan that cuts Medicare or Medicaid.”

Out of touch! The cluelessness of the 1 percent / Salon

Saturday, Oct 29, 2011 6:00 AM 12:51:46 PDT

Out of touch! The cluelessness of the 1 percent

These big spenders and luxury dealers just don't get it. Help us call out their crazy-spending ways SLIDE SHOW

Do you have $1,000,000 to drop on a “his & hers” fountain from the outrageous Neiman Marcus Christmas Book? Would you spend $19,000 to tie your shoes with laces of pure gold? Is there a $6,390 toilet in your future? Then this feature is not for you.
As millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet — navigating an impossible job market and attempting to provide for themselves and their families despite a still-weak economy — some big spenders (and luxury dealers) are hopelessly out of touch. With your help, we want to start calling them out.
The following slide show highlights nine examples of extravagant purchases or over-the-top marketing that we’ve noticed over the past few weeks. We’re going to continue shaming these examples of embarrassingly conspicuous consumption — and want you to lend us a hand! If you notice a great example, send your tips to
View the slide show
Emma Mustich is an assistant editor at Salon. Follower her on Twitter: @emustich. More Emma Mustich

Why inequality in America is even worse than you thought / By Justin Elliott / Salon

Saturday, Oct 29, 2011 6:00 AM 12:48:33 PDT

Why inequality in America is even worse than you thought

A new study shows economic and social conditions in the U.S. rank near the bottom of the developed nations

A panhandler begs for money on Fifth Avenue in New York
A panhandler begs for money on Fifth Avenue in New York December 8, 2009 (Credit: Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters)
There has been no shortage of headlines this week about the growing income and wealth inequality in the United States. A new study from the Congressional Budget Office, for example, found that income of the top 1 percent of households increased by 275 percent in the 30-year period ending in 2007. American households at the bottom and in the middle, meanwhile, saw income growth of just 18 to 40 percent over the same period
But less attention has been paid to the fact that not only are the numbers bad in America, they’re particularly bad when compared to other developed nations.
A new report (.pdf) by the Bertelsmann Foundation drives this point home. The German think tank used a set of policy analyses to create a Social Justice Index of 31 developed nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The United States came in a dismal 27th in the rankings. Here, for example, is a graph of one of the metrics, child poverty, in which the U.S. ranked fourth-to-last (click for larger size):
Justin Elliott
Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin More Justin Elliott

New Obama Foreclosure Plan Helps Banks At Taxpayers' Expense by Zach Carter / Common Dreams

New Obama Foreclosure Plan Helps Banks At Taxpayers' Expense

by Zach Carter
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is introducing a new program on Monday designed to lower monthly mortgage payments for more troubled homeowners.
Under the modified plan, "put back" liability at banks will be erased for any underwater mortgage that is refinanced through HARP, eliminating Fannie and Freddie's ability to sack lenders with losses in the event that the mortgage does not pan out. This, in effect, leaves the US taxpayer holding the toxic debt created by a private, profit-hungry bank. (Getty) But a key new condition in the plan would shift the financial liability for refinanced loans from Wall Street banks to the American taxpayer. And by focusing on lower payments, the program does not confront what housing experts view as the core problem in the foreclosure crisis -- borrower debt that exceeds the value of one's home.
Faced with the weak response to the Home Affordable Refinance Program, the Obama administration is planning to open up the program to all borrowers who owe more on their mortgage than their homes' worth, commonly dubbed being underwater, and have not missed a mortgage payment. HARP had been limited to borrowers who owed up to 25 percent more than their home is worth. More than 22 percent of all home mortgages -- or 10.9 million homes -- are currently underwater, according to CoreLogic data. Fewer than 900,000 borrowers have elected to go through HARP to date.

The revised program also eliminates several fees associated with refinancing that can make the decision to refinance uneconomical for borrowers. But the potential benefit of the eliminated fees could be relatively small: If a few thousand dollars worth of fees made refinancing a bad deal for underwater borrowers, the ultimate benefits that refinancing can pose would remain limited.
On a conference call with reporters, White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling referred to the HARP expansion as "a win-win policy" that will result in "less defaults" and "fewer foreclosures." But one of the program's new terms will benefit private-sector Wall Street banks, potentially at the expense of taxpayers.

The newly expanded program would expunge legal liabilities associated with mortgages refinanced through the program for the original lenders of the mortgages. Each time a bank sent a loan to Fannie and Freddie, it certified that the loan met Fannie and Freddie's safe lending criteria. But many loans sent to the mortgage giants did not, in fact, meet those criteria. Currently, when borrowers default on those ineligible loans, the mortgage giants can "put back" the resulting losses onto the banks that pushed the loans.
Under the modified plan, "put back" liability at banks will be erased for any underwater mortgage that is refinanced through HARP, eliminating Fannie and Freddie's ability to sack lenders with losses in the event that the mortgage does not pan out.

If borrowers go through HARP, but decide after several months that the modest monthly savings do not outweigh owing tens of thousands of dollars more than their home is worth, taxpayer-owned Fannie and Freddie will have to take the full loss. Even if the original loan was sent to Fannie and Freddie with false or fraudulent guarantees from the bank -- promises that may directly be tied to the borrower's current financial problems -- banks will be immune from liability. Fannie and Freddie plan to charge banks "a modest fee" to extinguish this liability, but the administration has yet to determine what that fee will be.
While the revised program seeks to lower mortgage payments for underwater homeowners, the program does nothing to address the core problem -- owing more than the home is worth. Though borrowers may save hundreds of dollars a month in lower payments by refinancing, they routinely owe tens of thousands of dollars more than their homes are worth, even after receiving aid.

"In most cases people would probably be better off walking," said economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

During a conference call with reporters, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan acknowledged that negative equity is a problem, and said the administration hopes to address the issue on other fronts. Donovan cited settlement negotiations with big banks over widespread allegations of foreclosure fraud and initiatives under the Home Affordable Modification Program, a separate Obama foreclosure-relief plan administered by banks, as key initiatives.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden have both objected to the foreclosure fraud settlement talks on the grounds that they give away too much to banks without investigating the scope of fraud problems in the system. The Home Affordable Modification Program has been a hotbed for the kind of borrower abuses that the administration is pressuring lenders to settle over.

Elizabeth Warren Is Scary! by Ruth Conniff Common Dreams

Elizabeth Warren Is Scary!

The Republicans are trying to sink Elizabeth Warren by linking her to the Occupy Wall Street protests. But the nation's top financial reformer is not backing down.
The furor started when Warren told the Daily Beast, “I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do. I support what they do.”photo: New America Foundation
The Republicans jumped all over what they view as an exciting new weapon in the contentious Massachusetts Senate race.
Check out ""Matriarch of Mayhem," the Massachusetts Republican Party's ad, which uses protest images and quotes taken out of context to imply that Elizabeth Warren advocates actual, physical violence.
Even among negative campaign ads, this is a new low.
You knew Wall Street and the Republicans were afraid of Warren and her idea for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. But you haven't seen the depths of their nightmarish fears until you've listened to the scary music and seen the video.
After plenty of shots of pierced protesters denouncing capitalism and getting arrested, the video cuts to an interview clip of the owlish Warren saying, "I have thrown rocks at people I think are in the wrong."
Text of a Warren quote appears next: "My first choice is a strong consumer agency . . . My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth on the floor." (The last part of the quote appears, helpfully, in bright red.)
Who is buying this stuff?
The Republicans hope that the language they use in their ad about protesters "bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies" and "redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience, and, in some instances, violence" will alienate middle-class voters in Massachusetts.
But here is the problem: The people they hope to alienate tend to agree with the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Like Harvard law professor, finance expert, and former Republican Elizabeth Warren, they are more concerned about the actual damage Wall Street and its enablers in the government are doing to the economy and the working people of this country than some silly 1960s bugaboo about radical Marxist hippies.
In fact, some of the people who are most open to Warren's anti-Wall Street message are the Massachusetts voters who elected her opponent, Senator Scott Brown.
As the Center for Media and Democracy's Mary Bottari pointed out in a blog back in January 2010, the Brown campaign "successfully capitalized on the bailout blues" by making an issue of Wall Street in its own ads about "bailouts, broken promises, and . . . backroom deals."
Brown's opponent, Martha Coakley, shot back with her own anti-Wall Street ads, but it was too late. Brown claimed the issue first, and as polls showed voter anger at Wall Street was high, he surged ahead.
"Democrats ignore this message at their peril," Bottari wrote at the time. "They must pass meaningful financial services reform, reform that stirs up a Wall Street backlash, that truly puts an end to the high-stakes casino and prevents the next crash."
As Occupy Wall Street shows, this issue has only gotten hotter.
While Obama and the national Democratic Party can hardly claim to be true opponents of Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren is the real deal. And the Republicans' scary ads have not intimidated her one bit.
I've been protesting Wall Street for a very long time," she said in response to the controversy "I understand the frustration, I share their frustration with what's going on, that right now Washington is wired to work well for those on Wall Street who can hire lobbyists and lawyers and it doesn't work very well for the rest of us. That's what I'm talking about, that's why I'm running for office."
When I interviewed Warren back in 2010, she put it this way, "The banks lobbied Washington so they could write the rules that got us into this crisis. They then lobbied Washington to get the money to bail them out. And now they are lobbying Washington to write the rules so they can get us into the next crisis."
At the time, she had been drafted by the Obama Administration to be the government's watchdog on the massive $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. One Wall Street lobbyist denounced her Congressional Oversight Panel because it entertained outlandish ideas like nationalizing or liquidating the banks. The hatred of her by Wall Street and the politicians it paid for was so hot, Obama couldn't get her appointed to head her own brainchild agency--Consumer Financial Protection.
But that didn't make her back down. "Every single day that goes by I read another news report about . . . how large financial institutions have figured out ways to lie to people, to squeeze them for money, to make profits by tricking and trapping people rather than by offering a better product," she told me.
Bad feeling toward the banks was not going to die down, she said then.
"My view is that middle class America is acutely aware of how bad this economy is, and it is going to demand changes. I don't think politicians can afford to be complacent."
Those politicians would do well to listen to Warren--Republicans and Democrats alike.

Thirty Years of Unleashed Greed by Robert Scheer / Common Dreams

Thirty Years of Unleashed Greed

It is class warfare. But it was begun not by the tear-gassed, rain-soaked protesters asserting their constitutionally guaranteed right of peaceful assembly but rather the financial overlords who control all of the major levers of power in what passes for our democracy. It is they who subverted the American ideal of a nation of stakeholders in control of their economic and political destiny.
Between 1979 and 2007, as the Congressional Budget Office reported this week, the average real income of the top 1 percent grew by an astounding 275 percent. And that is after payment of the taxes that the superrich and their Republican apologists find so onerous.
Those three decades of rampant upper-crust greed unleashed by the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s will be well marked by future historians recording the death of the American dream. In that decisive historical period the middle class began to evaporate and the nation’s income gap increased to alarming proportions. “As a result of that uneven growth,” the CBO explained, “the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979: The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. ... The share of after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income more than doubled. ...”
That was before the 2008 meltdown that ushered in the massive increase in unemployment and housing foreclosures that further eroded the standard of living of the vast majority of Americans while the superrich rewarded themselves with immense bonuses. To stress the role of the financial industry in this march to greater income inequality as the Occupy Wall Street movement has done is not a matter of ideology or rhetoric, but, as the CBO report details, a matter of discernible fact.
The CBO noted that in comparing top earners, “The [income] share of financial professionals almost doubled from 1979 to 2005” and that “employees in the financial and legal professions made up a larger share of the highest earners than people in those other groups.”
No wonder, since it was the bankers and the lawyers serving them who managed to end the sensible government regulations that contained their greed. The undermining of those regulations began during the Reagan presidency, and so it is not surprising that, as the CBO reports, “the compensation differential between the financial sector and the rest of the economy appears inexplicably large from 1990 onward.” Citing a major study on the subject, the CBO added, “The authors believe that deregulation and corporate finance activities linked to initial public offerings and credit risks are the primary causes of the higher compensation differential.”
So much for the claim that excessive government regulation has discouraged business activity. The CBO report also denies the charge that taxes on the wealthy have placed an undue burden on the economy, documenting that federal revenue sources have become more regressive and that the tax burden on the wealthy has declined since 1979.
In the face of the evidence that class inequality had been rising sharply in the United States even before the banking-induced recession, it would seem that the Occupy Wall Street protests are a quite measured and even timid response to the crisis.
Actually, the rallying cry of that movement was originally enunciated not by the protesters in the streets, but by one of the nation’s most respected economists. Last April, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote an article in Vanity Fair titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that should be required reading for those well-paid pundits who question the logic and motives of the Wall Street protesters. “Americans have been watching protests [abroad] against repressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few,” Stiglitz wrote. “Yet, in our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.”
Maybe justice will prevail despite the suffering that the 1 percent has inflicted on the foreclosed and the jobless. But to date those who have seized 40 percent of the nation’s wealth still control the big guns in this war of classes.

Immunity and Impunity in Elite America: How the Legal System Was Deep-Sixed and Occupy Wall Street Swept the Land by Glenn Greenwald / ICH

Immunity and Impunity in Elite America: How the Legal System Was Deep-Sixed and Occupy Wall Street Swept the Land

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding -- indeed, an integral part of it.
Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression. This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades. As journalist Tim Noah described the process:
“During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth -- the ‘seven fat years’ and the ‘long boom.’ Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1%. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20%. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.”
The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the trend, but not radically: the top 1% of earners in America have been feeding ever more greedily at the trough for decades.
In addition, substantial wealth inequality is so embedded in American political culture that, standing alone, it would not be sufficient to trigger citizen rage of the type we are finally witnessing. The American Founders were clear that they viewed inequality in wealth, power, and prestige as not merely inevitable, but desirable and, for some, even divinely ordained. Jefferson praised “the natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature” for the “government of society.” John Adams concurred: “It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the… course of nature the foundation of the distinction.”

Not only have the overwhelming majority of Americans long acquiesced to vast income and wealth disparities, but some of those most oppressed by these outcomes have cheered it loudly. Americans have been inculcated not only to accept, but to revere those who are the greatest beneficiaries of this inequality.
In the 1980s, this paradox -- whereby even those most trampled upon come to cheer those responsible for their state -- became more firmly entrenched. That’s because it found a folksy, friendly face, Ronald Reagan, adept at feeding the populace a slew of Orwellian clichés that induced them to defend the interests of the wealthiest. “A rising tide,” as President Reagan put it, “lifts all boats.” The sum of his wisdom being: it is in your interest when the rich get richer.

Implicit in this framework was the claim that inequality was justified and legitimate. The core propagandistic premise was that the rich were rich because they deserved to be. They innovated in industry, invented technologies, discovered cures, created jobs, took risks, and boldly found ways to improve our lives. In other words, they deserved to be enriched. Indeed, it was in our common interest to allow them to fly as high as possible because that would increase their motivation to produce more, bestowing on us ever greater life-improving gifts.

We should not, so the thinking went, begrudge the multimillionaire living behind his 15-foot walls for his success; we should admire him. Corporate bosses deserved not our resentment but our gratitude. It was in our own interest not to demand more in taxes from the wealthiest but less, as their enhanced wealth -- their pocket change -- would trickle down in various ways to all of us.

This is the mentality that enabled massive growth in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades without much at all in the way of citizen protest. And yet something has indeed changed. It’s not that Americans suddenly woke up one day and decided that substantial income and wealth inequality are themselves unfair or intolerable. What changed was the perception of how that wealth was gotten and so of the ensuing inequality as legitimate.

Many Americans who once accepted or even cheered such inequality now see the gains of the richest as ill-gotten, as undeserved, as cheating. Most of all, the legal system that once served as the legitimizing anchor for outcome inequality, the rule of law -- that most basic of American ideals, that a common set of rules are equally applied to all -- has now become irrevocably corrupted and is seen as such.

While the Founders accepted outcome inequality, they emphasized -- over and over -- that its legitimacy hinged on subjecting everyone to the law’s mandates on an equal basis. Jefferson wrote that the essence of America would be that “the poorest laborer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionaire, and generally on a more favored one whenever their rights seem to jar.” Benjamin Franklin warned that creating a privileged legal class would produce “total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections” between rulers and those they ruled. Tom Paine repeatedly railed against “counterfeit nobles,” those whose superior status was grounded not in merit but in unearned legal privilege.

After all, one of their principal grievances against the British King was his power to exempt his cronies from legal obligations. Almost every Founder repeatedly warned that a failure to apply the law equally to the politically powerful and the rich would ensure a warped and unjust society. In many ways, that was their definition of tyranny.

Americans understand this implicitly. If you watch a competition among sprinters, you can accept that whoever crosses the finish line first is the superior runner. But only if all the competitors are bound by the same rules: everyone begins at the same starting line, is penalized for invading the lane of another runner, is barred from making physical contact or using performance-enhancing substances, and so on.
If some of the runners start ahead of others and have relationships with the judges that enable them to receive dispensation for violating the rules as they wish, then viewers understand that the outcome can no longer be considered legitimate. Once the process is seen as not only unfair but utterly corrupted, once it’s obvious that a common set of rules no longer binds all the competitors, the winner will be resented, not heralded.
That catches the mood of America in 2011. It may not explain the Occupy Wall Street movement, but it helps explain why it has spread like wildfire and why so many Americans seem instantly to accept and support it. As was not true in recent decades, the American relationship with wealth inequality is in a state of rapid transformation.

It is now clearly understood that, rather than apply the law equally to all, Wall Street tycoons have engaged in egregious criminality -- acts which destroyed the economic security of millions of people around the world -- without experiencing the slightest legal repercussions. Giant financial institutions were caught red-handed engaging in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose on people’s homes and the reaction of the political class, led by the Obama administration, was to shield them from meaningful consequences. Rather than submit on an equal basis to the rules, through an oligarchical, democracy-subverting control of the political process, they now control the process of writing those rules and how they are applied.
Today, it is glaringly obvious to a wide range of Americans that the wealth of the top 1% is the byproduct not of risk-taking entrepreneurship, but of corrupted control of our legal and political systems. Thanks to this control, they can write laws that have no purpose than to abolish the few limits that still constrain them, as happened during the Wall Street deregulation orgy of the 1990s. They can retroactively immunize themselves for crimes they deliberately committed for profit, as happened when the 2008 Congress shielded the nation’s telecom giants for their role in Bush’s domestic warrantless eavesdropping program.
t is equally obvious that they are using that power not to lift the boats of ordinary Americans but to sink them. In short, Americans are now well aware of what the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, blurted out in 2009 about the body in which he serves: the banks “frankly own the place.”
If you were to assess the state of the union in 2011, you might sum it up this way: rather than being subjected to the rule of law, the nation’s most powerful oligarchs control the law and are so exempt from it; and increasing numbers of Americans understand that and are outraged. At exactly the same time that the nation’s elites enjoy legal immunity even for egregious crimes, ordinary Americans are being subjected to the world's largest and one of its harshest penal states, under which they are unable to secure competent legal counsel and are harshly punished with lengthy prison terms for even trivial infractions.

In lieu of the rule of law -- the equal application of rules to everyone -- what we have now is a two-tiered justice system in which the powerful are immunized while the powerless are punished with increasing mercilessness. As a guarantor of outcomes, the law has, by now, been so completely perverted that it is an incomparably potent weapon for entrenching inequality further, controlling the powerless, and ensuring corrupted outcomes.

The tide that was supposed to lift all ships has, in fact, left startling numbers of Americans underwater. In the process, we lost any sense that a common set of rules applies to everyone, and so there is no longer a legitimizing anchor for the vast income and wealth inequalities that plague the nation.

That is what has changed, and a growing recognition of what it means is fueling rising citizen anger and protest. The inequality under which so many suffer is not only vast, but illegitimate, rooted as it is in lawlessness and corruption. Obscuring that fact has long been the linchpin for inducing Americans to accept vast and growing inequalities. That fact is now too glaring to obscure any longer.