This week Bill previewed the new film Following the Ninth, a documentary exploring the worldwide cultural and political influence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “Ode to Joy,” has inspired flashmob performances by musicians in countries around the world. We have collected some of our favorites here and hope they inspire you, as much as they inspired us. MORE
This post originally appeared at In These Times’ labor blog, Working In These Times.
Advocates for the rights of workers with disabilities are ramping up their campaign to change the federal law that allows disabled employees to be paid as little as 22 cents an hour. As part of a bid to raise awareness, they are shaming companies like Goodwill Industries Inc. for taking advantage of those low pay rates.
On October 31, petitions with some 170,000 signatures demanding policy changes at Goodwill were delivered to the company’s Rockville, Maryland, headquarters and to five regional offices in New York, California, Texas, Washington state and Rhode Island, says Ari Ne’eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). The signatures were collected through a Change.org online campaign in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and ASAN.
ASAN and NFB want changes to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that allows select employers, including Goodwill, to pay people with disabilities at wage rates far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The groups have documented cases of individual workers with disabilities at Goodwill receiving the minimum of 22 cents an hour, Ne’eman says, and ASAN believes that such pay levels are unfair and abusive.
Efforts in Washington, DC, to change the law are currently stalled, reports Ne’eman, and “we are unlikely to see any progress in this Congress,” which continues through the end of 2014. “There doesn’t seem to be any appetite on the part of the traditional supporters [of rights for the disabled] to go after FLSA at this time,” he says. “But we are intent on keeping up the pressure and making advances where we can.”
This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.
Earlier this month, two activists who have been on the front lines of the battle against Wall Street’s predatory practices confronted two of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful financial titans — BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink and PIMCO founder William Gross — pressuring them to discuss their corporations’ attack on the working class families of Richmond, CA, who are trying to salvage their lives and their homes from the disaster of foreclosure. [If you press play on the video, you will hear the activists within seconds.]
The activists were calling on BlackRock and PIMCO to negotiate the sale of troubled loans to the city of Richmond, so that the loans can be fixed and foreclosures can be avoided. The problems facing working class homeowners in blue-collar Richmond may be hard for either money mogul to understand. MORE
This post first appeared in ThinkProgress.
Head Start programs have been shuttered, small businesses can’t get loans and hundreds of thousands of federal government employees are furloughed. But the exclusive gyms available only to members of Congress have remained open throughout the shutdown.
A House aide confirmed to ThinkProgress that the House member’s gym is open. The House gym features a swimming pool, basketball courts, paddleball courts, a sauna, a steam room and flat screen TVs. While towel service is unavailable, taxpayers remain on the hook for cleaning and maintenance, which has been performed daily throughout the shutdown. There are also costs associated with the power required to heat the pools and keep the lights on.
In an interview published Monday in The Wall Street Journal, AIG chief executive Robert Benmosche compared the American public’s outrage at bailed-out Wall Street execs grabbing bloated bonuses to African-Americans being lynched in the Old South.
No, really. Here’s the quote (brackets are in the original):
The uproar over bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.
In 2008, AIG received $85 billion from American taxpayers on top of the funds made available from the TARP program. Less than a week later, a bunch of AIG executives went on a “retreat” to the luxurious St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., where they ran up a bill of almost a half-million dollars, including $150,000 for meals and $23,000 in spa charges. MORE
This article was originally posted on Common Dreams.
That’s over and above our payments to the big companies for energy and food and housing and health care and all our tech devices. It’s $6,000 that no family would have to pay if we truly lived in a competitive but well-regulated free-market economy.
The $6,000 figure is an average, which means that low-income families are paying less. But it also means that families (households) making over $72,000 are paying more than $6,000 to the corporations.
1. $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies
The Cato Institute estimates that the US federal government spends $100 billion a year on corporate welfare. That’s an average of $870 for each one of America’s 115 million families. Cato notes that this includes “cash payments to farmers and research funds to high-tech companies, as well as indirect subsidies, such as funding for overseas promotion of specific US products and industries…It does not include tax preferences or trade restrictions.” MORE
Akbar Gbajabiamila, a former defensive end for three NFL teams, described his first concussion, suffered in just his fourth pro game, as feeling like “someone hitting you over the head as hard as possible with a cast-iron frying pan.”
Everything around me at that moment sounded faint, as if I were at the bottom of a swimming pool hearing conversations above me. My understanding of my surroundings was foggy, almost like that feeling you get when you lose your train of thought.
Gbajabiamila was a rookie fighting for a job, and he didn’t want to come out of the game. “I got up like a drunken man and started searching for that big hit,” he wrote, “but the play was already over.” After receiving some medical attention on the sidelines, he continued to play.
That’s how football has always been. You take a hard hit, you suck it up like a man and you go out for more. Until recently, those who raised concerns about the long-term effects of repeated episodes of mild brain trauma were dismissed. They didn’t understand the toughness of the game or its players. The league claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to draw any conclusions about the safety of the sport.
But today, research by independent neuroscientists has outpaced the NFL’s ability to spin away its concussion crisis – and calls for making the game safer are growing louder. MORE
Editor’s note: We first ran this piece back in September. On Tuesday, six of the 11 Northern Colorado counties with the ’51st state’ initiative on their ballots voted to start the process of seceding from the Centennial State.
Conservative activists in five rural Maryland counties are fed up with what they see as the tyranny of a democratically elected state government they don’t control. They’re so frustrated that they want to secede and form their own deep red state.
Bizarre as it seems, the effort is part of a trend. In Colorado, up to 10 rural counties want to break off and form a new state called Northern Colorado. A handful of counties in Kansas and Nebraska are reportedly thinking about joining them. Several counties in Northern California are hoping to combine with a chunk of Southern Oregon to form the state of Jefferson – an old idea that apparently hasn’t gone out of fashion. And folks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula fed up with Lansing have also been kicking around the idea of cutting loose.
The media have framed these stories as a symptom of a growing rural-urban divide, and that’s true. Gun safety laws enacted after the Sandy Hook shootings sparked the move in both Colorado and Maryland. Marriage equality for gays and lesbians, and differences over energy policy, immigration (over which state governments have little control) and taxes are often cited as “irreconcilable differences” by these secession advocates. MORE
This post first appeared in ThinkProgress.
Five years ago this week, the investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. declared bankruptcy and triggered the financial collapse that brought us the Great Recession. Things have turned out quite well for former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld and four other industry executives whose work contributed substantially to the cycle of subprime lending and financial swindling that caused the crisis. Fuld and his colleagues haven’t just avoided legal repercussions for the crisis. They’re also among the wealthiest people in the country.
As part of a series commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) published a look at Fuld and executives from Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Bank of America on Tuesday. Here are three infuriating facts CPI unearthed about the masters of the financial universe.
1. Dick Fuld walked away with half a billion dollars and three homes. Fuld’s $529 million fortune is actually a lot less than he could have been worth had he been able to cash out all of his stock before the Lehman bankruptcy. He had been paid $889.5 million in salary and stock between 2000 and 2007, and at one point his stock options were worth a full $900 million. CPI offers a digital tour of Fuld’s three homes: mansions in Greenwich, Connecticut and Jupiter Island, Florida, and a ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho. When Lehman settled for $90 million with former investors who the firm had deceived through an accounting trick approved by Fuld, it was an insurance company that paid, not executives like Fuld.
2. The former Bear Stearns CEO who walked away with over $300 million plays high-stakes bridge in retirement. Jimmy Cayne oversaw Bear Stearns’s massive gambling on home loans and related financial products prior to the company’s collapse. Today, he oversees a different sort of gambling. Cayne is the number 22-ranked bridge player in the world. He walked away from the company two months before it went belly up, having cashed out $289 million in stock and received another $87.5 million in direct cash bonuses from 2000 to 2007. Cayne and his wife own two Manhattan apartments, a mansion on the Jersey shore, and a $2.75 million condo in Boca Raton, Florida. “He’s paid no judgments or settlements from any lawsuits,” CPI reports.
3. Three bailed out CEOs whose “golden parachutes” were worth a combined $272 million are doing just fine. Charles Prince left Citigroup in 2007 following the announcement he’d lost the firm $11 billion in mortgage-backed gambles. The company paid him $28 million to leave. Stan O’Neal was fired by Merrill Lynch the same month, and the firm sent $161.5 million out the door with him. Ken Lewis left Bank of America in 2009 with a parachute payment of $83 million. All three of their firms had to be bailed out by taxpayers. The three men’s exit payments dramatically understate their total compensation. O’Neal and Prince each have vacation homes in the islands off of Cape Cod. Lewis has sold two homes in recent years but retains a condo in Naples, Florida.
While these stories of huge personal success in the face of clear business failure are infuriating, they are far from exceptional. Fully one-third of the highest paid financial industry CEOs of the past two decades have been fired, bailed out or busted for fraud.
Meanwhile, 11.3 million Americans remain unemployed, with tens of millions more having dropped out of the workforce or struggling to survive on low-wage part-time service industry jobs. Those who do have work are earning less than they did prior to the crisis, and American workers as a whole have experienced a lost decade in wage growth despite boosting their productivity substantially. By contrast, the financial industry that caused the crisis has bounced back rapidly, with record profits and near-record bonuses for its executives.
This post first appeared in Alternet.
In September 2012 the Library Board of Pulaski County, Kentucky, raised property taxes $1 per year for a typical homeowner to maintain the existing level of services in its five libraries. Voters were not given the opportunity to reject the increase; in 2006 however, they were and resoundingly approved a much larger increase to finance a new library.
But in 2006 the county and the country did not have a tea party. That grassroots movement sprang up early 2009 in fury at the federal government’s attempt to help millions of people facing foreclosure stay in their homes. In 2010 it escalated into a full-throated attack on the federal government’s attempt to expand medical care access to tens of millions. By 2012 the tea party movement’s virulent anti-government, anti-tax philosophy and take-no-prisoners, I’m-not-my-brother’s-keeper attitude had come to define American politics.
Pulaski County tea partiers, justifying their fury by noting the $1 increase had not been voted on by the people began circulating a petition to dissolve the library tax district completely. The effort’s leader declared her group would stop accumulating signatures only if all members of the current library board resigned. MORE
Previous laws required municipalities to sell guns found or seized, but the new law makes it clear this prohibition also applies to guns which are voluntarily surrendered — often through police buyback programs.
Instead of being melted down, these guns must be used by the police or sold to the general public – in other words, put back into the very circulation from which violence easily erupts. To be even clearer, guns that leave the hands of people who would just as well do without them, will now be placed into the hands of those who, by and large, relish pulling the trigger. MORE
It started as a fringe idea — for some, it was a joke — but it’s gaining traction: the trillion dollar coin, a possible trump card in the debt ceiling negotiations. The U.S. could default on its debt as early as Feb. 15, and, given the Congressional brinkmanship that has surrounded the last few debt ceiling negotiations, not many people are looking forward to this next go-round.
In a new public service announcement (PSA) recorded for MTV and Funny or Die, Jersey Shore‘s cast gets political. You read that right.
The bit begins with Snooki looking up from the most recent issue of Mother Jones magazine to ask her friends who they are planning on voting for in November. What follows is a laughably implausible intellectual conversation about the state of our democracy, including one impassioned speech by The Situation about the “self-fulfilling prophecy” of voter apathy.
But what really made us LOL was Mother Jones‘s editor Clara Jeffery‘s response to a request for comment from The Atlantic Wire: “What is there to say but Lolz, go #gymtanvote! A cover plugged by both Moyers and Co and Jersey Shore. #winning.” Indeed! MORE
The poet Joyce Kilmer once wrote: “I think that I shall never see. A poem lovely as a tree.” Trees in urban settings are more than just lovely, they actually clean the air, reduce noise pollution, reduce the need for air conditioning in the summer and work against the greenhouse effect. They even reduce stress. And according to blogger Tim De Chant, they also prove to be a good indicator of income inequality as viewed from space.
“[F]or every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. That’s a pretty tight correlation. The researchers reason that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees.”
Over the weekend, NPR’s Guy Raz talked with Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke about his recent column in which he wrote a eulogy for facts. According to Huppke, the “death blow” occurred on Wednesday, April 18, when Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida announced that about 80 Democratic congressmen are members of the Communist Party.