Great reporting in the New York Times today from Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Stephanie Clifford about an increasingly annoying, not to mention inherently immoral, problem faced by the lowest income American workers.
In an effort to save money, many businesses with lower paid workers, such as fast food franchises and retail chains, are resorting to paying workers with prepaid debit cards that often come with extremely hefty fees (like $1.75 each time you make a withdrawal at an ATM or a $7 penalty for not spending your own money before a specified date). Just getting a regular check or direct deposit at a bank isn’t even an option anymore for some workers, as well as many people on public assistance programs. Some states, like California, put unemployment insurance benefits on prepaid ATM cards subject to these sorts of fees also.
As Silver-Greenberg and Clifford point out, these charges just to get at your own money can often be so onerous as to mean that the workers who are paid this way end up making less than the minimum wage. As an increasing number of consumer attorneys, state and Federal regulators and of course the workers themselves are starting to realize, these “fees,” to put it in plainer English, amount to legal confiscation:
Taco Bell, Walgreen and Wal-Mart are among the dozens of well-known companies that offer prepaid cards to their workers; the cards are particularly popular with retailers and restaurants. And they are quickly gaining momentum. In 2012, $34 billion was loaded onto 4.6 million active payroll cards, according to the research firm Aite Group. Aite said it expected that to reach $68.9 billion and 10.8 million cards by 2017.
Companies and card issuers, which include Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup, say the cards are cheaper and more efficient than checks — a calculator on Visa’s Web site estimates that a company with 500 workers could save $21,000 a year by switching from checks to payroll cards. On its Web site, Citigroup trumpets how the cards “guarantee pay on time to all employees.”
GOOD TIMES! And hey, now that $21,000 AND THEN SOME can get pushed onto the worker’s backs and off the corporation’s bottom line! You have to wonder if Taco Bell, Walgreens and Wal-Mart are skimming micro-payment kickbacks every time one of these cards is swiped. It’s one thing for a company with 500 employees, imagine the kinds of “arrangements” that are in place between the big banks and these mega-corporations.
Many low income Americans do not have bank accounts at all, but the “innovation” of the payroll ATM cards effectively allows the big banks to pick their pockets anyway, applying a surcharge—let’s call it a “Capitalist free market tax” shall we?—to give people access to their own money. In poorer rural communities where the only ATMs might be in a mini-mart or liquor store, the fees would also be charged by the ATM provider (and split with the owner of the store). All in all, you gotta hand it to them, it’s a damned clever, if outrageously morally reprehensible, way for the banks to make up for all those various gravy-trains that the Dodd-Frank legislation effectively ended:
For banks that are looking to recoup billions of dollars in lost income from a spate of recent limits on debit and credit card fees, issuing payroll cards can be lucrative — the products were largely untouched by recent financial regulations. As a result, some of the nation’s largest banks are expanding into the business, banking analysts say.
The lack of regulation in the payroll card market, while alluring for some of the issuers, can potentially leave cardholders swimming in fees. Take the example of inactivity fees that penalize customers for infrequently using their cards. The Federal Reserve has banned such fees for credit and debit cards, but no protections exist on prepaid cards. Cards used by more than two dozen major retailers have inactivity fees of $7 or more, according to a review of agreements.
Some employees can also be hit with $25 overdraft fees, called “balance protection,” on some of the prepaid cards. Under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, banks with more than $10 billion in assets are barred from levying overdraft fees on customers’ checking accounts.
That’s great if you’ve got enough money to actually put into a checking account, but if you’re already waking up every morning on the wrong side of capitalism, these vampires can legally bleed you dry and clearly have every intention of just taking whatever they can.
“Goldman Sachs 2020 Slave Labor Camp International” by Lee Harvey
Considering the appalling number of Americans these days who are paid as little as their bosses can possibly get away with paying them, you would think that citing opposition to the notion that hard work should, you know, pay a living wage and provide for some level of human dignity in the world’s richest country, would be perceived as a toxic issue by the elders of the Republican Party. Something you wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole…
But you would be wrong.
During a hearing on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Sen. Bernie Sanders got Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to admit that he wants to abolish the minimum wage.
It was remarkably easy—he wasn’t even trying—for Sanders to provoke a remarkable reaction to this statement:
“There are certain conservatives who do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage. The concept of the minimum wage. In other words, if the economy as such, and I offer you three dollars an hour.”
Alexander took the bait, interrupting Sanders (“Let me jump in. I do not believe in it” he says) and offering his two unsolicited cents:
Sanders: So you do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage?
Alexander: That’s correct.
Sanders: You would abolish the minimum wage?
Sanders: If someone had to work for two bucks an hour, they would work for two bucks an hour?
Senator Alexander is not a stupid man. He’s a graduate of Vanderbilt University and NYU’s law school. He’s been in government since the Nixon administration, he was the 45th Governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987 and he served as George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of Education. He’s run for president twice.
Alexander was not caught off guard and this was not exactly a trick question that Senator Sanders posed to him, either. He volunteered this information: Alexander really means this shit.
Oy vey. When will these Republicans ever learn?
The exchange between Sanders and Alexander starts (after Sanders lays the groundwork discussing the situation that fast food workers find themselves in making $7 bucks an hour) at the 5:48 mark. At the end of it, the asshole from the conservative Heritage Foundation asserts that the minimum wage hurts “the beneficiaries”!
I shit you not. Apparently the G8 leaders and their entourages are such delicate flowers that they can’t bear to see the effect of the global recession on the towns they drive through, such as upcoming host Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.
Local councils in Northern Ireland have painted fake shop fronts and covered derelict buildings with huge billboards to hide the economic hardship being felt in towns and villages near the golf resort where G8 leaders will meet this month.
Northern Ireland’s government has spent £2m (€2.3m) tackling dereliction over the past two years, the environment department said. Some buildings have been demolished and others have been given a facelift in an attempt to make areas more attractive.
Almost a quarter of “dereliction funds” were freed up for local councillors in Co Fermanagh in anticipation of Britain hosting the annual Group of Eight leaders’ summit there on 17-18 June. More than 100 properties have been spruced up. In the one-street town of Belcoo, the changes are merely cosmetic.
At a former butcher’s shop, stickers applied to the windows show a packed meat counter and give the impression that business is booming. Across the street, another empty unit has been given a makeover to look like a thriving office supply shop.
Locals are unimpressed. “The shop fronts are cosmetic surgery for serious wounds. They are looking after the banks instead of saving good businesses,” said Kevin Maguire, 62, an unemployed man who has lived all his life in Belcoo.
The existing social and financial order is crumbling because it is unsustainable on multiple levels. The central state is not the Millennials’ friend, it is their oppressor.
No generation of young people is ever politicized by hunger in distant lands or issues of the elderly. It’s no rap on youth that self-interest defines what issues have the potential to radically transform their political consciousness; the transformative cause must reveal the system is broken for them and that it intends on sacrificing their generation to uphold the status quo.
The Millennial generation, also known as Gen-Y (Gen-Y comes after Gen-X), is generally defined as those born between 1982 and 2004.
The oldest Millennials were children during the first Iraq War in 1991 (Desert Storm) and just coming of age in 2001 (9/11 and the war in Afghanistan) and the start of the second Iraq War (2003).
The Millennials have entered adulthood in a era characterized by permanent low-intensity wars and central-bank/state managed financial bubbles—2001 to the present. In other words, the only experience they have is of centralized state mismanagement on a global scale.
The gross incompetence of the government and central bank—not to mention the endless power grabs by these centralized authorities—has not yet aroused a political consciousness that the system is irrevocably broken, not just for older generations but most especially for them.
Anecdotally, it appears the Millennial generation is still operating on the fantasy that all they need to do to get a secure, good-paying job and a happy life is go to college and enter the status quo machine of government/corporate America.
There are two fatal flaws in this fantasy: the $1+ trillion student loan industry and a transforming economy. The higher education industry in the U.S. operates as a central state-enabled and funded cartel, limiting supply while demand (based on the fantasy that a college degree has critical value) soars. This enables the cartel to keep raising prices even as the value of its product (a diploma) sinks to near-zero.
Since the Federal government issues and guarantees all student loans, the higher education cartel is (like sickcare, national defense and the mortgage industry) effectively socialized, i.e. funded and managed by the central state.
If you understand the student loan system is predatory, parasitic and exploitive, you have reached first base of a meaningful political awareness. If you understand the central state (Federal government) funds and enforces this system, you’ve reached second base. If you understand the vast majority of college degrees do little to prepare you to be productively employed in the real economy, you have reached third base.
If you understand the status quo is unsustainable and does not operate according the the fantasy model you’ve been told, congratulations, you’re close to home base.
The central state is not your friend, it is your oppressor. The loan shark that won’t let you discharge your student loan debt without appealing each ruling against you three times is the government (and its hired-gun proxies).
The oppressor who demands you work your entire life to pay interest on public debt squandered on neocolonial wars and various cartels (sickcare et al.) is your central state.
The entity who demands you pay higher taxes so the generation entering retirement gets all that it was promised, even though the world has changed and the promises are no longer sustainable? The central state.
The oppressor that will devote its enormous resources to investigate and crush you if you actively resist the bankers and financiers who pull the political lackeys’ strings? The central state.
At some point, the Millennial generation will have to awaken to the fact that the only way to change its fate is to grasp political power and redirect the policy and mindset of the nation. Centralization is the black hole that is destroying the nation’s social and economic vigor. Decentralization, transparency, accountability, adaptability, social innovation, a community-based economy—these are the key features of a sustainable social order.
The existing social and financial order is crumbling because it is unsustainable on multiple levels. The status quo will cling to its false promises and corrupt centers of power until the moment the whole thing implodes.
C.D., a longtime contributor to my blog, Of Two Minds, recently highlighted another danger of centralization: sociopaths/psychopaths excel in organizations that centralize power, and their ability to flatter, browbeat and manipulate others greases their climb to the top.
In effect, centralization is tailor-made for sociopaths gaining power. Sociopaths seek power over others, and centralization gives them the perfect avenue to control over millions or even entire nations.
Even worse (from the view of non-sociopaths), their perverse abilities are tailor-made for excelling in office and national politics via ruthless elimination of rivals and enemies and grandiose appeals to national greatness, ideological purity, etc.
As C.D. points out, the ultimate protection against sociopathology is to minimize the power held in any one agency, organization or institution:
After you watch these films on psychopaths, I think you’ll have an even greater understanding of why your premise of centralization is a key problem of our society. The first film points out that psychopaths generally thrive in the corporate/government top-down organization (I have seen it happen in my agency, unfortunately) and that when they come to power, their values (or lack thereof) tend to pervade the organization to varying degrees. In some cases, they end up creating secondary psychopaths which is kind of like a spiritual/moral disease that infects people.
If we are to believe the premise in the film that there are always psychopaths among us in small numbers, it follows then that we must limit the power of any one institution, whether it’s private or public, so that the damage created by psychopaths is limited.
It is very difficult for many people to fathom that there are people in our society that are that evil, for lack of a better term, and it is even harder for many people in society to accept that people in the higher strata of our society can exhibit these dangerous traits.
The same goes for criminal behavior. From my studies, it’s pretty clear that criminality is fairly constant throughout the different levels of our society and yet, it is the lower classes that are subjected to more scrutiny by law enforcement. The disparity between blue collar and white collar crime is pretty evident when one looks at arrests and sentencing. The total lack of effective enforcement against politically connected banks over the last few years is astounding to me and it sets a dangerous precedent. Corruption and psychopathy go hand in hand.
A less dark reason for avoiding over centralization is that we have to be aware of normal human fallibility. Nobody possesses enough information, experience, ability, lack of bias, etc. to always make the right decisions.
Defense Against the Psychopath (video, 37 minutes; the many photos of political, religious and secular leaders will likely offend many/most; if you look past these outrages, there is useful information here)
As C.D. observes, once sociopaths rule an organization or nation, they create a zombie army of secondary sociopaths beneath them as those who resist are undermined, banished, fired or exterminated. If there is any lesson to be drawn from Iraq, it is how a single sociopath can completely undermine and destroy civil society by empowering secondary sociopaths and eliminating or marginalizing anyone who dares to cling to their humanity, conscience and independence.
“Going along to get along” breeds passive acceptance of sociopathology as “the new normal” and mimicry of the values and techniques of sociopathology as the ambitious and fearful (i.e. almost everyone) scramble to emulate the “successful” leadership.
Organizations can be perverted into institutionalizing sociopathology via sociopathological goals and rules of conduct. Make the metric of success in war a body count of dead “enemy combatants” and you’ll soon have dead civilians stacked like cordwood as proof of every units’ outstanding success.
Make lowering unemployment the acme of policy success and soon every agency will be gaming and manipulating data to reach that metric of success. Make higher grades the metric of academic success and soon every kid is getting a gold star and an A or B.
Centralization has another dark side: those ensconced in highly concentrated centers of power (for example, The White House) are in another world, and they find it increasingly easy to become isolated from the larger context and to slip into reliance on sycophants, toadies (i.e. budding secondary sociopaths) and “experts” (i.e. apparatchiks and factotums) who are equally influenced by the intense “high” of concentrated power/wealth.
Increasingly out of touch with those outside the circle of power, those within the circle slide into a belief in the superiority of their knowledge, skills and awareness—the very definition of sociopathology.
Even worse (if that is possible), the incestuous nature of the tight circle of power breeds a uniformity of opinion and ideology that creates a feedback loop that marginalizes dissenters and those with open minds. Dissenters are soon dismissed—“not a team player”—or trotted out for PR purposes, i.e. as evidence the administration maintains ties to the outside world.
Those few dissenters who resist the siren song of power soon face a choice: either quietly quit “to pursue other opportunities” (the easy way out) or quit in a blast of public refutation of the administration’s policies.
Public dissenters are quickly crucified by those in power, and knowing this fate awaits any dissenter places a powerful disincentive on “going public” about the sociopathology of the inner circle of power.
On rare occasions, an insider has the courage and talent to secure documentation that details the sociopathology of a policy, agency or administration (for example, Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers).
Nothing infuriates a sociopath or a sociopathological organization more than the exposure of their sociopathology, and so those in power will stop at nothing to silence, discredit, criminalize or eliminate the heroic whistleblower.
In these ways, centralized power is itself is a sociopathologizing force. We cannot understand the present devolution of our civil society, economy and ethics unless we understand that concentrated power and wealth are intrinsically sociopathological by their very nature.
The solution: a culture of decentralization, transparency and open competition, what I call the DATA model (Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable) in my book Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
“We’re getting closer to a world where technology takes care of the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so that you can get on with what makes you happiest… living and loving. It’s an exciting time to be at Google.”
These are the concluding lines of a recent announcement by the CEO of Google, Larry Page. It sounds great: technology will make our lives easier and we don’t have to work hard anymore. The machines, or rather ‘technology,’ they say will run our world. But…
I think we’e in the middle of an unfolding horror story!
It can’t simply be some bizarre coincidence, can it, that as we scale ever higher peaks of technological innovation, the USA is going through its worst recession in 97 years? The story is not too different in Europe and most of the rest of the world; there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. Stands to reason, right?
Plenty of words have been written on the topic of machines taking away jobs from humans, and the twin threat of outsourcing, but this time things are different, really different. They are so different that…
I have no hesitation in saying that the world is on the verge of screwing itself in a spectacular fashion!
Here is the proof…
The invisible robots
As a kid I used to imagine a future where robots would do things for us. That day has arrived but these robots don’t look like anything I imagined they would as a child. They don’t have arms or legs, they are computers and smartphones with the Internet acting as their brains. The talk about machines replacing humans is an age old story and we have managed pretty well so far, but this time things are different for two reasons: Distribution and Convergence!
Since the Industrial Revolution, even before, machines have replaced human jobs but they never had this ability to multiply and spread across the global with almost zero additional costs through the Internet. Take the case of the mailman vs email or traditional books vs Kindle books. In the later case, it costs next to nothing to distribute something that used to take time and effort, printing, warehousing, shipping and retail outlets in the past. Time and effort that was spent by real people doing real jobs which are simply not necessary anymore.
From bank clerks to airline ticketing attendants, there are many classes of jobs that are going extinct. Read this article: A look at jobs replaced by technology. Where do all these people go now?
But isn’t capitalism, to a certain extent supposed to be “destructive”? Isn’t that where innovation comes from? In the battle between man and machine there is an old argument that goes instead of a candle we now have light bulbs and in place of a horse and carriage we have cars, so “disruption” is good. But now we are faced with a new problem: Convergence.
Due to convergence of technologies, multiple tasks are now doable with but a single device. The smartphone and tablet are effectively destroying the calculator, camera, flashlight, alarm clock, wrist watch, notepad, audio player and multiple other industries. I am not merely talking about the things one can do via the Internet for the scale of disruption is unimaginable. Real people were making those products. They are now not needed anymore. And it’s not merely job loss, the products themselves won’t exist anymore.
And who manufactures these new converged products?
Most probably some company like Foxconn in China where Apple and many other companies build their products at dead cheap rates. Almost none of those manufacturing jobs are in the USA or anyplace in Europe. No wonder the Eurozone is in tatters right now, Greece is at 60% unemployment and Spain has 55% of its youth between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed right now; forget manufacturing, they might never ever get a job that involves soft skills, all thanks to outsourcing.
Ousted by outsourcing
Outsourcing, while taking away jobs from many, has provided employment to millions in another part of the globe. This led to an increase in earning potential as well as spending capacity for millions who could now aspire to “things” and a lifestyle unimaginable earlier. New doors have opened where none existed earlier. However, there are dangerous pitfalls on this side too. There are already two main patterns one can notice emerging– Obsolescence and Cannibalism.
All the pitfalls of disruptive technology apply here too. You can never say when a particular piece of technology or service will become obsolete. The skills that we learn today might not be needed tomorrow; this applies to software professionals who are dime a dozen out there specializing in skills that could be without economic value tomorrow.
Very few people specialize in “real” skills anymore, right from a commerce graduate to a science student to a mechanical, civil or chemical engineer; all want to become Software-IT Professionals.That’s where the easy moolah is. Those who continue in the pursuit of conventional professions often find themselves in a unique fix, not able to compete with their counterparts in the IT industry in terms of fat paychecks. But there is an even bigger issue in play here, cannibalism.
In the modern world of outsourcing, cannibalism is a rampant practice. No one is eating anyone else alive but everyone is eating away at everyone else’s jobs.
Organizations are always looking at doing things the fastest and cheapest way. They achieve it by employing smarter technology, but where manpower is still essential they are always on the lookout for a cheaper option that can accomplish the same task in a shorter time-frame—the primary reason why outsourcing exists in the first place. Why bothering hiring and paying an experienced hand when a trainee will suffice?
For a country like India, that boasts of a massive youth population that is ready to be employed, the future can be quite unsettling. It is a win-win situation for the bosses, but the same can’t be said for the employees as job security simply does not exist anymore.
So basically, technology and outsourcing are screwing the west and the rest are hell bent on screwing themselves . To put it simply…
The West is already screwed and the rest are hellbent on screwing themselves by cannibalising themselves to obsolescence
So what is the solution?
James Altucher, one of the most exciting writers I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd.
Take the case of movies. The top hits today make more money than ever while the bottom is a horror story with the vast majority of films not even finding any avenues of release or exhibition; it is a problem of plenty. It is the same with businesses and tech start ups. The big corps capture the bulk of the market and the smaller fish are in the game only to be hooked or to be eaten by the biggies. No wonder income inequalities are growing wider across the globe between the rich and the rest of us.
The Rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer has never been truer than it is today!
Forgetting for a moment, the poorer countries where wealth inequality is extraordinary and the bottom of the pyramid is unimaginably huge. Instead take the case of America, which in everyone’s opinion is an advanced and wealthy nation. Truth is, top 1% of America’s wealthy elite control 40% of their nation’s wealth. You should check the video below to see the scale of this phenomenon.
The middle class is almost non-existent now. We might as well rename it the “temporary class.”
We aspire to reach the top, but in reality most of us are just a part of the vast bottom that is feeding the top!
Technology is wonderful, it really does help us to live better lives. It is good that most things are becoming automated, wonderful that we don’t have to work as hard anymore, but here is the catch:
How do we survive in a world where our worth is only determined by our last paycheck?
And if all the jobs are handled by technology, who will give us those checks? We have yet to figure out a way to live in this world without money. Somewhere this cycle of the world’s productive labor and capital going to the 1% has to be broken.
That reminds me of the famous line by Charles Bukowski:
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so”
How in the hell did we end up here? I wonder too. It is high time we all started to talk about this. A global conversation. Until then, we shall continue to be willing and invisible participants in the mission to screw ourselves and our world over (and to what end? We already know the answer). We have done a pretty great job of it until now. It is high time we figured out newer (and BETTER) ways of living and surviving in this world that are not dependent on us working ourselves to death so that the 1%‘s kids can sit on golden toilet seats and have a servant wipe their asses with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. In the future we’re heading for, your kid won’t have a pot to piss in.
I hope Google has some ideas for that too. Maybe you have one. Let me know.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
It would be (too) easy to whip up an editorial tirade about this, but why bother when the “party” is going to be over soon enough anyway?
The glaring twin ironies at play here seem to be missed entirely by the dum-dum tea baggers: First, that the folks who consider themselves Tea partiers correspond pretty faithfully to the same demographic who still read newspapers in printed form and who are receiving, or who soon enough will receive Social Security benefits and Medicare.
Why not try to elect Republican candidates who will cut your own benefits so that billionaires can amass greater and great hordes of cash? Psst, hey Tea party people, the Republican party wants to cut benefits for white seniors too! [And guess what: SO DO MOST OF THE FUCKING DEMOCRATS—INCLUDING OBAMA!]
I don’t think those ‘baggers have really thought any of this stuff through.
The other thing is, who will replenish the Tea party ranks when these dickheads die off? Will this message resonate much with all of those recent college grads with debt up to their eyeballs, and no job prospects that pay higher than ten bucks an hour?
The deposit-confiscation “bailout” of Cyprus reveals much about the Eurozone’s fundamental neocolonial, neofeudal structure.
At long last, Europe’s flimsy facades of State sovereignty, democracy and free-market capitalism have collapsed, and we see the real machinery laid bare: the Eurozone’s political-financial Aristocracy will stripmine every nation’s citizenry to preserve their power and protect the banks and bondholders from absorbing losses.
Let’s list what Cyprus reveals about the true state of financial-political power in Europe:
1. The Core-Periphery terminology masks the real structure: the E.U. operates on a neocolonial model. In the old Colonialism 1.0 model, the colonizing power conquered or co-opted the Power Elites of the periphery regions, and proceeded to exploit the new colonies’ resources and labor to enrich the Imperial core.
In Neocolonialism, the forces of financialization (debt and leverage controlled by State-enforced banking cartels) are used to indenture the local Elites and populace to the financial core: the peripheral “colonials” borrow money to buy the finished goods manufactured in the core economies, enriching the Imperial Elites with A) the profits made selling goods to the debtors B) interest on credit extended to the peripheral colonies to buy the core economies’ goods and “live large”, and C) the transactional skim of financializing peripheral assets such as real estate and State debt.
In essence, the core banks of the E.U. colonized the peripheral nations via the financializing euro, which enabled a massive expansion of debt and consumption in the periphery. The banks and exporters of the core exacted enormous profits from this expansion of debt and consumption.
Now that the financialization scheme of the euro has run its course, the periphery’s neocolonial standing is starkly revealed: the assets and income of the periphery are flowing to the core as interest on the private and sovereign debts that are owed to the core’s central bank and its crony money-center private banks.
This is not just the perfection of neocolonialism but of neofeudalism as well. The peripheral nations of the E.U. are effectively neocolonial debtors of the core (quasi-Imperial) banks, and the taxpayers of the core nations (now reduced to Germany and The Netherlands) are now feudal serfs whose labor is devoted to making good on any bank loans to the periphery that go bad.
Though we can term the E.U. a plutocracy or oligarchy, the neofeudal structure compels us to distinguish a class of those holding wealth and political power that is not limited to national border: This is an Aristocracy.
Serving the Aristocracy is a well-paid technocrat class of factotums, lackeys, toadies and enforcers. Below this well-compensated caste of technocrats is the larger class of debt-serfs, enslaved to interest payments on either their own debts or the debts of others, and bound by their class powerlessness to protecting banks and bondholders from losses.
Cyprus merely adds an expropriation twist to this well-oiled plunder: deposits will be expropriated directly to insure no Imperial (core) banks or bond holders lose money on their absurdly risky loans to periphery nations and serfs.
2. This is a supranational plunder. While commentators can wile away years debating how much Germany benefited from the euro, the real core is not national, it is supranational banks and the political machinery of the E.U. the banks have effectively captured.
The citizenry of Germany may approve or disapprove of the Cyprus expropriation, but it doesn’t matter either way: their own serfdom to banks and bondholders is simply being masked: the bailouts of periphery nations are transparently bailouts of core banks and bondholders.
The nation-states of the neocolonial periphery are simply convenient propaganda placeholders, useful misdirections aimed at the naive and sentimental, hollowed-out national structures propped up to mask the ugly neocolonial reality of servitude and plunder.
3. Democracy is a fiction when no matter who you vote for, the banks and bondholders win control of the national income stream and private wealth. Democracy in Europe is a travesty of a mockery of a sham, an absurd play which is acted out as a form of blood-sport circus to distract the masses from their powerlessness and debt-serfdom.
Democracy is a fiction when the policies protecting banks and bondholders from losses remain in place regardless of which political party, coalition or politico is nominally in power.
The German taxpayers’ private wealth is being expropriated via taxes to bail out core banks and bondholders; how is this any different from the blatant expropriation of private assets in Cyprus?
It is only a difference in technique; the result is the same: the forced transfer of wealth from those who earned it from their labor to banks and bondholders which in a truly capitalist economy would be immediately forced to absorb the losses of their leveraged, highly risky bets.
4. The ideological fiction of capitalism is dead in Europe. Capitalism is a fiction if capital that is placed at risk for a return cannot be lost.
5. Cyprus is a test to see how blatant the expropriation of private assets can become without triggering overthrow and revolution. If the furor dies down soon enough, then the same technique of expropriation will be imposed elsewhere. If the reaction is sustained and threatening to the Aristocracy, other less blatant expropriations will be tested in other neocolonies.
6. Divide and conquer is the propaganda order of the day. The Power Elites are attempting to set the serfs of the periphery against the serfs of the core, the goal being to keep both sets of serfs from realizing they are equally indentured to the core’s pathological political-financial Aristocracy.
A new ad campaign hit the streets of London two days ago, drawing attention to a surprisingly unrecognized state of affairs: the City of London is the tax haven in our own backyard. While the British government is busy protecting banker’s bonuses, a global grass roots campaign has set up to take on the rules which create the institutionalized inequality which sees 0.1% of the world’s population owning 81% of the world’s wealth, while 8 million people will die this year because they are too poor stay alive. It’s time to help make The Rules.
Half the world lives on less than $2 a day
30,000 children die every single day due to poverty
2 billion people have no access to electricity
20% of people in the highest-income countries consume 86% of the world’s resources. The poorest 20% account for a minuscule 1.3%
“Income inequality and wealth inequality even more so, are worse in the United States since the 1920s, and by some measures since the 1890s. Most of the economic gains in the past 25 years have gone to the top 15-20 percent of Americans, but more recently, in the past six to seven years, most of the economic gains have gone to the top one percent. . . . The average CEO is making about 380 times more than the average worker – a huge gap relative to what it used to be 40 years ago – it was about 30 times.”
The campaign, which encompasses phone boxes (60 in all across the capital), a mobile billboard, viral video, postcards (and more) will run from the 11th to the 24th of March, is being brought to the UK by new anti-poverty initiative – The Rules - on behalf of people from the majority world who have signed a petition by people online and via a new mobile innovation called Crowdring, which enables people to sign a petition via dialling a “missed call.” This is a similar mechanism to Indian anti-corruption campaign of 2011, which became the biggest petition-type campaign ever seen, allowing people to participate without internet access and at very low cost.
“Our world has never been more connected or more prosperous than it is today. Yet right now, one in every three of us alive today does not have access to the most basic needs for a decent life – food, education, medical care, a safe environment.
The good news is that for the first time, ordinary citizens like you and I have the power and ability to change the rules that are creating these injustices. Technology and the shift of global power mean that we can now demand our say in decisions that have traditionally been made by elites behind closed doors. But the truth is, these things will only change if we demand it.”
The campaign operates as a decentralised network with several campaign hubs around the world, including in Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York and Rio. The focus of these hubs is to identify issues, opportunities, technologies and regional strategies for each campaign.
The ‘engine room’ for their campaigns is the Working Group, which is made up of more than 70 people from around the world. Members come as individual volunteers, not as representatives of their respective organisations. They come from a broad range of organizations – from civil society, to grassroots advocacy groups, to policy think tanks, to technology providers.
The sole objective of the Working Group is to help create campaigns for viable, alternative rules that serve the interests of the world’s majority, with disproportionate benefit to the poor, vulnerable and marginalised among us.
There will be a day of action on 16 March, where representatives from the majority world, The Rules and UK activists from groups such as Occupy and UK Uncut will all come together to transform a space in the City of London into a “tropical tax haven.” Pete the Temp has been confirmed to MC.
So, spread the word and join the campaign. It is time to stop complaining about the rules, and start rewriting them.
Join The Rules campaign and be a part of the solution
After a year of speculation and rumors, it’s official: Bleecker Bob’s, New York City’s most loved and hated record store, is closing. It will be replaced by a Froyo outlet in May 2013. Soon, instead of rare punk 45s, you’ll have your choice of “sprinkles with that?” or a shot of protein powder with your 32 ounce container of probiotic bacteria. It seems progress means a total loss of identity in the once mighty Manhattan.
This is from Bleecker Bob’s Facebook page:
looks like the new tenant has signed the lease. we’ve heard they want to be open by June 1. it will take probably around 2 months to get work permits for the massive remodeling job they’ll need to do so we’re figuring we should be open until May 2013!! —-get ready for another chain of self serve yogurt/coffee/hot chocolate cafes NYC!!”
Bleecker Bob’s opened in 1968 as Village Oldies Records. In the mid-70s, as Bleecker Bob’s (named after its owner, ex-lawyer Bob Plotnik), it became a Mecca for people seeking the latest punk rock 45s and albums. Plotnik’s surly attitude, a borderline parody of the most tightly-wound rude New Yorker, added a certain manic energy that melded perfectly with the edgy music playing on the sound system. Imagine Johnny Rotten as a fat, pissed-off Jew and you might get a feel for Plotnik’s schtick. I could never tell if Bob was genuinely nuts or just playing nuts. He did usually follow his highly caffeinated rants with a sheepish smile. Whatever the case, his gruffness turned off a good portion of his customers. I knew plenty of people who refused to shop at his store, but I wouldn’t allow his vibes to keep me away from the thousands of records pouring in every month, most of which were D.I.Y singles from all over the planet. If dealing with Bob was part of the price of doing business with the guy, I didn’t mind. I wanted the vinyl!
When punk and disco hit the scene, people who had stopped buying records started again with real passion. I know I did. Bob’s shop was packed in the late ‘70s—lines snaking out the door and Bob barking at people to keep it moving. If you browsed too long without buying, you were out of there. It was Bob’s good fortune that Yelp didn’t exist at the time.
For a lot of musicians, Bob’s place was not only a place to buy records, it was a place to sell your own. At the height of the punk era, Bob was always interested in new stuff from new bands and would pay cash for a stack of D.I.Y. 45s. Between buying and selling, the store was a meeting place for rockers from all over the world. It wasn’t unusual to run into Stiv Bators, Joey Ramone or Billy Idol thumbing through the racks.
One day while visiting Bob’s, I found around 50 copies of my latest single sitting on the counter. These were records that I paid to have pressed with my own money. The distributor had just sold them to Bob for cash. I never got an accounting for that sale. The distributor pocketed the money for himself. If you think major labels are the ultimate rip-offs, you haven’t had the experience of working with indies. I later mentioned it to Bob and he laughed. “It happens all the time,” he said. I didn’t find it funny.
In recent years, due to health issues, Plotnik passed the day-to-day activities of running the store to his management team. The place somehow managed to survive without its resident bully or the help of a music movement like punk to fuel record sales.
In the annals of great record stores, Bleecker Bob’s will always stand tall. Ironically, at a time when vinyl sales are on the rise, one of the pioneers of the indie record scene is closing. Another casualty of escalating rent. Thanks to an unfriendly environment for independent business in New York City, we won’t have Bleecker Bob to kick us around anymore.
Hazel Sheffield and Emily Judem’s For The Records is a bittersweet tribute to Bleecker Bob’s record store and the man who nurtured it for over four decades.