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azell(Photo: Andrew Huff)Sam Zell is known around Chicago as a bit of a brash, blunt multi-billionaire.  After making his fortune in setting up massive real estate funds (REITs) and then diversifying into Mitt Romney style buy and strip apart corporate acquisitions, he purchased the faltering Chicago Tribune in 2007.

At a televised conference Zell held with the staff, one journalist asked him how he would ensure that, in essence, the bean counters wouldn't be compromising the reporting in the Tribune and its other major media holdings (including the Los Angeles Times). Zell glared at the reporter and simply responded, "F*ck you!"

Zell's primary approach to saving the Tribune empire was to drastically cut staff, including journalists, and sell off assets, but he didn't have an instinct for the media world and ultimately the Tribune corporation went into bankruptcy.  Eventually, Zell sold it at a loss to some other investors.  

This is just some background on the man who just the other day claimed (according to an article reposted ironically in the Chicago Tribune) that people "should not talk about envy of the 1 percent, they should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder, the 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society."

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abarclays(Photo: Alwyn Ladell)Barclays may be officially incorporated in the UK, but its branch in the United States is performing "robustly," according to the bank.  That's one reason, according to Reuters, that Barclays is going to be paying out nearly $4 billion dollars in bonuses for the past year:

A rise in bonuses at the bank could provoke a backlash from politicians and a public angered that banks are not reining in compensation. Excessive pay has been blamed for encouraging risk-taking and contributing to the 2008/2009 financial crisis.

Sky said Barclays is expected to defend the increase in bonuses by pointing to a robust performance by its investment bank in the United States and the threat it will lose its top staff there to its Wall Street rivals.

Amidst an avalanche of Wall Street banks paying fines (instead of being criminally prosecuted by the Department of Justice) for fraud, Barclays is giving out billions of dollars in extra compensation to senior financial staff.  Most working people are lucky to get a $50 bonus at the end of the year.  But most people don't work on Wall Street where the corporate culture rewards individuals who encourage pushing at the edge of the legal envelope, as Jamie Dimon has done at JPMorgan Chase.


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apaydayloan(Photo:rinkjustice)If you are poor and cash-starved, you might regularly turn to a payday loan lender by signing over your paycheck for a small loan. Once you do that, you will likely end up in a bind because interest rates (when combined with fees) can be as much as 1000%. This means a poor or minimum wage working person is caught in a cycle of debt and paying off interest exponentially worse than exorbitant credit card rates.

Elizabeth Warren has a solution for that, and one that can help reinvent the US Postal Service (which is under attack by the "small government" caucus): allow postal offices to provide services now offered by payday loan lenders and currency exchanges (which charge high rates for basic services such as cashing a check, in the absence of banks in many limited income communities).

Warren outlined her proposal posted in the Huffington Post on Feburary 1.

Published in EditorBlog


atophat(Photo:lokarta)A new book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," contends that the dramatically increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few (in the United States and globally) fundamentally undermines democracy, according to Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times.

A professor at the Paris School of Economics, Thomas Piketty, is the author of the book (which will be published in English early this spring). 

In a January 28 NYT commentary, "Capitalism vs. Democracy," Edsall writes that Piketty,

...contends that capitalism’s inherent dynamic propels powerful forces that threaten democratic societies.

Capitalism, according to Piketty, confronts both modern and modernizing countries with a dilemma: entrepreneurs become increasingly dominant over those who own only their own labor. In Piketty’s view, while emerging economies can defeat this logic in the near term, in the long run, “when pay setters set their own pay, there’s no limit,” unless “confiscatory tax rates” are imposed.

At the heart of creating the current economic inequality, Piketty points to a key factor. Edsall explains:

The six decades between 1914 and 1973 stand out from the past and future, according to Piketty, because the rate of economic growth exceeded the after-tax rate of return on capital. Since then, the rate of growth of the economy has declined, while the return on capital is rising to its pre-World War I levels.

In short, if the richest individual and institutions have a rate of wealth that increases faster than the overall growth of the US economy, that rise in assets and income (which is what is occurring right now with at least one estimate of 95% of the recent economic recovery is going to the top 10 percent) comes from the pockets of those who laber for a living.

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ahomeless(Photo:marsmet521)Admittedly, BuzzFlash at Truthout is not the first to break this astonishing story, but Walmart is claiming that its sales dropped in the fourth quarter because the government has cut back on food stamps, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to the Los Angeles Times:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Friday that U.S. sales figures for its fiscal fourth quarter would probably come in below earlier forecasts when they’re announced Feb. 20 due to the effects of volatile weather and cuts to the federal food stamp program....

But on Friday the company said that sales would likely miss the mark, pushed down from stronger-than-expected pressure from a government reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that went into effect Nov. 1.

In many commentaries, BuzzFlash at Truthout has pointed out that even if one is cruel enough to deny people food, the food stamp program actually adds money to the economy.  How does that happen, you might ask? As we have noted, each SNAP recipient dollar adds an estimated $1.70 to the economy because it impacts the creation of jobs in the entire food distribution system, from farmer to truck driver to shelf stocker and beyond.

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awashroom(Photo: mechanikat)Some people are just very touchy about their toileting, enough to make discriminating against transgender students a priority -- and further stigmatizing them in the process.

According to the Provo Utah Daily Herald, Utah State Rep. Mike Kennedy wants to legally force transgender school students to use separately designated washrooms:

The bill looks to define gender under state code. The legislation states gender means the male or female phenotype designated by an individual's birth certificate. If it is not designated on the certificate then the student would need to have a signed document from a physician indicating their gender. The student then would only be allowed to use the bathroom that is the same as their medically designated gender.

The bill specifically states that gender does not mean an individual's own opinion on their gender....

Kennedy, a medical doctor by profession, said it makes sense the he would be the one to run this legislation as he can speak in medical terms as to what gender a person, medically speaking, would be identified as.

Kennedy, in sort, would it make a legal issue as to what students could use which washrooms based on, no doubt, the filing of birth certificates at school.

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allunch433811697 bba2362bba n(photo:bookgrl)Talk about stealing candy from a baby!

At an elementary school in Salt Lake City, Utah, a nutritionist had the lunches of all children who owed money for food put in the garbage.  This was after the students had already received their trays with meals.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune:

Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.

"It was pretty traumatic and humiliating," said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her cafeteria lunch taken from her as she stood in line Tuesday at Uintah Elementary School, 1571 E. 1300 South.

Now maybe some parents were behind in payments because they are un-employed or under-employed, but what kind of nation is this that literally rips lunches out of the hands of grade school students?

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amoneyAddictions of any sort are an indication that people cannot control a facet of their lives.  The insatiable desire to acquire unlimited wealth falls into the category of addictions, according to Sam Polk, in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

Polk writes from experience, having walked away with a $3.6 million Wall Street bonus in 2010.  He is still, he admits, going through withdrawal from greed.  He writes of his unquenchable avariciousness when he was in the midst of his addiction:

Now, working elbow to elbow with billionaires, I was a giant fireball of greed. I’d think about how my colleagues could buy Micronesia if they wanted to, or become mayor of New York City. They didn’t just have money; they had power — power beyond getting a table at Le Bernardin. Senators came to their offices. They were royalty.

I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid “only” $1.5 million.

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areich56According to Robert Reich, in a blog entry earlier this month, 2013 was a banner year for the wealthy, as the trickle up of income and asseets continued to gallup along. Reich calls 2013 "the year of the great income redistribution [upward]":

One of the worst epithets that can be leveled at a politician these days is to call him a “redistributionist.” Yet 2013 marked one of the biggest redistributions in recent American history. It was a redistribution upward, from average working people to the owners of America.

The stock market ended 2013 at an all-time high — giving stockholders their biggest annual gain in almost two decades. Most Americans didn’t share in those gains, however, because most people haven’t been able to save enough to invest in the stock market. More than two-thirds of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck.

Even if you include the value of IRA’s, most shares of stock are owned by the very wealthy. The richest 1 percent of Americans owns 35 percent of the value of American-owned shares. The richest 10 percent owns over 80 percent. So in the bull market of 2013, America’s rich hit the jackpot.

Have you hit the jackpot in the last year as income and assets continue a decades-long redistribution to the top? Not me. For 90% of America, we are hitting the bills, not a Las Vegas mega-payoff.

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achase4367539671 cf984dda20 mWith somewhere around $20 billion in fines for civil and criminal violations, JPMorgan Chase is making history.  Of course, as most narcos know, you've got to factor in losing some money to making a lot of money.  That means the leaders of the so-called banks too big to fail -- like their drug cartel counterparts -- are doing just fine indeed.

That is just the case with Jamie Dimon. After a year of virtually non-stop settlements with the US government for various violations of regulations and the law (but no criminal indictments or personal fines against Dimon, or prosecuted criminal charges against the JP Morgan Chase), his board felt that a 77 percent increase in his salary to $20 million a year was in order.  News of the raise came last week as 90 percent of Americans are still feeling an economy dragging them down.

As a New York Daily News January 26 editorial noted with scorn:

With too-big-to-fail arrogance on steroids, the board members of scandal-tainted JPMorgan Chase have boosted Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s salary by 77% to a fat, happy and offensive $20 million.

The entire lot of them are beyond shame.

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