The Super Rich vs The Super Poor in the US

by bicyclemark 8 Comments

Normally I prefer to NOT talk about the US elections. I’m not very impressed or excited by the actions and promises of either candidate of the 2 parties that share control of the country.? Sure Obama says things I like better than the things that McCain says. But that doesn’t automatically mean I’m satisfied or impressed.

One of the big issues for me is poverty.? Gone is the one candidate who at least spoke the words “the poor” in his speeches and proposed policies (John Edwards), the remaining 2 candidates call everyone working families or hard working Americans, little buzz phrases that are just vague enough to make everyone think this candidate is speaking for them.?? Meanwhile poverty in the US is on the increase, and also alarming, the wealthy class is more wealthy than ever in history and that gap between the two is wider then ever.? A fact that opens the door to many social, financial, and political problems.. yet there is little action or demand to put a stop to it.? (yes yes, both candidates mention their concern for CEO’s making so much money, I’m aware of that)

All this to bring me to my big recommendation of the day; the latest edition of Radio Open Source, where Chris interviews Chuck Collins.? While I’ve never heard of Chuck Collins, who is a specialist in the areas of US incomes, property, and economics, I found myself rewinding various segments to listen again.

You’ve heard it said before, though rarely do leaders or corporate media investigate it, the inequality boom in the United States is dangerous.? I highly recommend listening to this interview and soaking it in, it is the kind of critical thinking that we should be pummeling these candidates with.. obligating them to not just make the occasional lament, but to lay out a serious point by point plan for turning the tide and making it politically and hopefully cuturally a priority to preserve opportunity and keep the playing field of life and work from becoming an out of control thunderdome.

A cycle? Or an explosion?

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

I often listen to my own podcast. Might sound strange, but one of my rituals, besides losing most of my nights sleep preparing a podcast, is to listen to it the next day as I ride my bike through town. I listen to try and hear what others might hear; an idea or an experience that teaches me something, gives me a new idea or leads to deeper questions.

Lately I’ve noticed a common thread; through all the podcasts about work, income, quality of life, and history. That common thread is the question of whether or not things are happening as part of a cycle or have we reached some kind of major confrontation.

I’m referring to the strikes but I’m also referring to the inequality in the world. I’ve read the reports, looked at the statistics, and listened to individuals tell their stories and their evaluations about this moment in history. The strikes around the world, pitting people struggling to make a living against companies or governments who also struggle to do what they think is necessary for the future. Pension cuts, job cuts, contract negotiations collapsing, governments against workers, corporations against workers, public opinion against strikers, the conflicts and alliances go on and on.

Of course I’m too young to make some bold statement that this is some unique moment in history. Whenever I ask more experienced people they give me a mix of reactions, that these things happen in cycles and this is just the return of old stuggles as old as time itself.

In a recent interview for a forthcoming podcast, I asked a very excellent journalist who covers labor, if he thinks we’ve reached some climax in the struggle to make ends-meat. He didn’t see it as a climax, yet he did talk about what a huge boom of interest there is for his work now more than ever before. More and more individuals want to know about their rights as working people, and have a clear idea of their wages and benefits and they’re using the internet to find out about these issues.

Still I’m left wondering… is this truly a unique moment in history? Is this more of the same or the return of some age-old cycle?

Wealth Pyramid

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

Sometime around the spring of 1999, I stepped into my first day of a class that would change my life forever. It was African-American politics at William Paterson U, and in walked a polite and mild mannered man who would later become one of my most valued friends and mentors.

In my fuzzy memory, the first thing Yemane did, after telling us his name, was to draw a pyramid on the board. He divided that pyramid, a tiny line near the narrow top, which he labelled — 80% of the world’s wealth. Then he circled the rest of the pyramid, pointing especially to the large bottom part — 20% of the world’s wealth.

Actually I think it was more dramatic than that… Yemane was (and is) excellent at breaking down the world around us. From that point on politics, understanding who gets what, why, and how, became an obsession.

This week I see a familiar statistic… the global concentration of wealth report reveals that in the last 5 years… that pyramid has gotten worse. The people at the top, the small group, have gotten richer than ever before. And the rest of the people in that pyramid, the majority of people in our world, have gotten poorer.

The updated and more accurate statistic from the report is as follows:

  • 0.7% of world’s population control more than 1/3 of the world’s wealth.
  • Where? Half of that group are in North America, while 1/4 are in Europe.

I’ve always believed that this statistic is one of the best places to start if you want to pick apart what is wrong with the world. If you want to spark people’s concern and interest in figuring out why this has happened and the tremendous price humans pay because of this mind boggling inequality.

Later this week I’ll have a podcast on this topic, with guests. So stay tuned.

The Haves and the Have Boats

by bicyclemark

I’m going to save the discussion about the terrible war crime that the Israeli military committed today by bombing the UN observer post. Someone in charge has clearly lost their mind and must be arrested and face charges in the international criminal court. But again, thats for a future post, so save the comments on that issue.

ams070617Today’s issue starts with a story. A few hours ago, as I cruised in from a leisurely boat ride around the Jordaan and Prinseneiland, I noticed a boat-owner-neighbor parked a few spots up from me, standing in his boat waving to me. “Nice Lamp” he shouted in Dutch, referring to my pink colored lantern that gets alot of comments somehow. I thanked him and began to tie my ropes and chain to the usual places on land. The man’s smile changed when he saw this, and he gave out a warning “make sure you lock everything up and chain it properly, this guy who usually parks between us had his boat stolen last night”. Stolen? I stared at him in disbelief. Thoughts of what a nice neighborhood we live in, and why would anyone want to steal that boat which I remember being fairly unremarkable. Are you sure – I asked. A boat stolen, here? He started laughing and went on to talk about how easy it is and how our neighborhood is not immune to theft of anykind.

Which reminded me of larger issues at play in this beloved city. Amsterdam has tons of beautiful things. Whether you cruise down on bike or on boat, you’ll be able to see people sitting in their luxurious houses, or cruising by in their fancy boats. In terms of haves and have nots, this city’s haves like to flaunt what they’ve got.

Of course, this is what you see on the surface. If you go out to the far off neighborhoods.. things are somewhat different. People don’t have as much to flaunt, and thanks to a number of different issues and circumstances, many decide that stealing from the haves is a good way to acquire some quick cash if not thrills.

While I don’t like the idea of my stuff being stolen, especially my boat which spends many hours out there on the water, alone… after observing Dutch society over the years, I’m not so surprised. Matter of fact, it seems inevitable. With all the in-your-face luxury of this city, that a relatively small yet very visible population exhibit. Combined with lots of disaffected youth, with limited prospects for fullfilling or even just earning a higher standard of living then the one they’re born into. That my boat or my neighbors boat, regardless of weather he and I are fairly financially well of or not, might be targeted…. not that much of a surprise.

People talk alot of Europe’s safety nets. Some of it warranted. Much of it has been picked apart and made more difficult to attain. Quality of life remains high, and poverty is of course not as prevelant as it is in most other countries… but still… one thing is certain… if the political and social winds keep blowing the way they’re blowing.. the Red August is gonna need thicker chains and a bigger lock.

Leaving for Portugal in the morning.. see you on the other side!